Reggie Watts and Stevie Dangerfield are homicide detectives called in to investigate in the suspicious death of a piano teacher. A link to chapters 1 through 8 are available.
Rubato- Chapter 9
"I have always felt a peculiar frisson upon seeing for the first time the actual handwriting of a master composer, alive with its irregularities, its visible impulses, its detectable moments of ease and worry, of joy and despair... No printed score can offer such insights."
She clutched the music to her chest. How she loved looking at the measures carefully drawn with such precision.
Reggie and Stevie sat across from each other at the dining room table. The documents were sorted into piles of correspondence, written documents, and music. Reggie was holding a clear sleeve and within was a very old, yellowed fragment of music written by hand on a parchment like paper with black ink.
“Are you telling me that this is valuable? Valuable enough to kill someone to get it?” Reggie held the plastic sleeve up into the light.
“It is priceless. Handwritten scores by the composers themselves are precious to scholars and musicians. Their scores have information about how the composer truly intended their piece to be played and felt. There are no editorial markings or suggestions, just the original notes and notations. Is it more valuable than human life? No, I can’t imagine it has a price tag high enough to murder someone to get hold of it.”
“So, what is this music exactly?”
“I think it is the beginning of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8. It is a very difficult piece. All of the Rhapsodies are challenging even to the best pianists. He wrote them to embody the gypsy spirit. The basic form copies the fast and slow parts of a folk dance. Here, I have a copy.” Stevie jumped up and went into the living room. Reggie was interested in what she was going to find, so he followed her. From the top shelf she pulled out a large, thick paperback book. She turned to the page and carefully put the clear sleeve next to it. “It is exactly what I said. Look at the elegance in his writing”. She stood to take the book and the autograph to the piano. “I may not be able to play it well, but would you like to hear it?”
Reggie settled into the soft cushions of the couch. After Stevie adjusted the piano bench she placed her hands over the keys. The first notes had many repeats with trills. Then the bass started a low melody line. Stevie looked transfixed by sound. Gone was the tough cop and here was an artist controlling a much bigger instrument with grace and force. The Rhapsody lasted a few minutes but time stopped for Reggie, who was intently listening. He didn’t know much about classical music. Being so close to a grand piano and witnessing a gifted musician was rare. She lifted her hands but the sound bloomed up and then slowly diminished. Then there was silence.
“Why are you a cop?” Reggie asked quietly.
Stevie sat in thought. “I am a detective because I need to solve problems. I need to understand human nature and why people do what they do. I could have become a social worker or guidance counselor but that would require accepting that people change ever so slowly. As detectives we pry and question, pulling information from suspects until we the truth surfaces. Then we can close the case and walk away.”
“But you didn’t answer my question. Why aren’t you a musician by profession?”
“I am a musician. Through years of learning and practice I can claim that title. But, financially supporting myself as a pianist isn’t easy. I know. My mother tried to pursue her piano performance career for decades. My father supported her but her choices to perform all over the world left my Dad and I on our own. I am a homebody. I need a center of gravity which to me is my space and my piano. Why are you a detective?”
“I like thinking that I am fighting to make things right. My father was a policeman and I admired his bravery. Sometimes my optimism gets jaded by corruption. We see a lot of crap and have a front row seat to see the worst in people. But, heck, being a detective beats sitting in front of a computer all day!’
“Sitting in front of a piano has the same affect on your behind.” Stevie laughed comfortably. “So what did you think of the Rhapsody?”
“The sound of it was beautiful; a lot of sound.”
“Liszt was accused of writing too many notes and not enough music. But he countered by saying that he wanted to show what the piano could do.”
“So show me where the fragment is located in your music edition.”
Stevie got up from the piano and with the music book in one hand and the autograph manuscript in the other she sat next to Reggie on the couch. The handwritten page had wild scrawls of ink, punctuated with little dots.
“If you have a copy of the whole song, or ‘piece’,” he corrected himself, “why get so excited by this little bit? Surely he made more copies.”
“You are right. A copyist made other manuscripts of this piece. But notice how there is a shadow of a different number behind the four? That shows that Liszt hesitated and almost started in another time signature. And here, see that scratched out note and the one just to the right. The mistake messed with the tonality of this measure. The correction is much better. These are small things but to a music scholar this provides insight into Liszt’s compositional skills.”
“Are you so sure it is authentic?”
“Well, we would have to have it looked at by a music scholar or even better several music scholars but my gut says this is authentic.” She gently brushed her hands over the page.
“We need to get these papers booked in as evidence and to the station on Monday.” Reggie felt the burden of hanging on to this evidence too long.
“I know.” Stevie bristled at his implication that she was irresponsible.
“If this paper is so valuable why do you think Judith Whitesides left it out among her papers at home instead of locked up somewhere?”
Stevie shrugged her shoulders. “It was tucked into a thin music score in the bottom of her cabinet. The murderer must have looked for it. Sometimes, what is in an obvious place is overlooked. The crime scene team gathered many fingerprints in the music room so anyone of those people could have searched the drawers.”
Reggie picked up some other letters. One was from The Library of Congress, Music Collections department.
“Listen to this. ‘Dear Ms. Whitesides, Your inquiry about the discovery of a missing Liszt original fragment is very exciting. We look forward to working with you in accepting this gift.’ Here is another letter. This time from Professor Kemény in Budapest. ‘Dear Judith, I am under the assumption that you will be turning over the autograph manuscript as we have discussed previously. My first payment has been made to your account.’ Did Judith promise to sell it to the professor?”
“If she did, it explains the enmity between them. So was Judith going to give the autograph manuscript away or sell it?”
“Hey, here is a letter from that same guy in Hungary.” Reggie stopped reading and looked over at Stevie. “Whoa, he is threatening Judith if she doesn’t hand over the fragment. Oh, there are more letters with the same basic message. This one is dated last month.”
“Well there is a motive for murder. Tomorrow is Saturday but we need the tech team to do background checks into this professor and while we are at it, let’s find out more about Tony Chavez and Dominik Horak.” Stevie sifted through more papers, setting aside a pile for letters.
Reggie glanced at his watch. He stood to go get his coat. He needed to get home.
“Stevie, I need to get going. First thing tomorrow we gather up information on these leads.”
Stevie followed him with a pillow clutched to her chest.
He pulled his jacket off the coat rack and stuffed his arms into the sleeves. “And, thank-you for playing for me. It was amazing. You are the first partner I’ve had that provides entertainment on the side.”
Stevie threw the pillow she was carrying at his head.