“As the mother teaches her children how to express themselves in their language, so one Gypsy musician teaches the other. They have never shown any need for notation. “
She clutched the manuscript to her chest. How she loved looking at his handwritten measures drawn with such precision. His notation was like a private diary. She could see into his intentions and at the same time view his soul.
Stevie sat across from Reggie at the dining room table. The documents taken from Judith’s house were sorted into piles of correspondence, written documents, and music. Reggie was holding a clear, plastic sleeve up into the light, turning it right and left. It looked like a very old, yellowed piece of parchment. Groups of black notes ascended and turned back down on the musical staff. These were the notes of a master composer.
Reggie passed the document back to Stevie. “Are you telling me that this is valuable and that the murder is tied to it? Is it valuable enough to kill someone to get it?”
Stevie nodded her head. “It is priceless.”
“Priceless to whom?”
“Handwritten scores by the composers are precious to scholars and musicians.” She touched the plastic sleeve with reverence. “Their scores have information about how the composer truly intended their piece to be played and felt. No editor has made marks or suggestions, just the original notes and notations.” She stopped to look up at Reggie. “If you are asking whether it is more valuable than a human life then, no, I can’t imagine it has a price tag high enough to murder someone to get hold of it. But, when has a murder investigation ever made sense?”
“So, what does this music sound like?”
Was Reggie asking to her to play it? Stevie felt a moment of panic. “I think it is the beginning of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8. It is a very difficult piano piece. All of the Rhapsodies are challenging even to the best pianists. He wrote them to embody the gypsy spirit of the Romani people in Hungary.”
“Did he come across gypsies in Hungary?”
“Yes, and Liszt was fascinated by their folk music. He actually coined the term ‘gypsies’ in a book he wrote.” Stevie propped both elbows on the table, putting her face in her hands. “But, I’m embarrassed to say that he was still rather bigoted and felt they needed civilizing. Here, I have a copy of the No. 8 in a later edition.” Stevie jumped up and went into the music room. She noticed Reggie right behind her and assumed he was interested in knowing more about Liszt. From a top shelf she pulled out a large, thick paperback book. She turned to the Rhapsody and carefully put the manuscript next to it, side by side. “It is exactly what I said.” She smoothed her hand over the plastic sleeve. “I absolutely love the elegance of his script.” She took the book and the autograph to the piano. “I may not be able to play it well, but would you like to hear it?”
“Yes, please.” Reggie dropped into the soft cushions of a leather couch across from the piano. 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’s eyes scanned the music and was immediately transfixed by the sound. No longer the tough cop, but more an artist controlling a big instrument with grace and force. She lifted her hands off the keyboard at the end, but the sound bloomed up and then ever so slowly diminished. Then there was silence.
“Why are you a cop?” Reggie asked quietly.
A slight blush washed over Stevie’s face. The conversation was getting very personal. She weighed her answer carefully. “I am a detective because I need to solve problems. I need to understand human nature and why people do what they do.” She propped her elbow on the piano music stand and turned toward Reggie. “I could have become a social worker or guidance counselor but that would require working with people over a longer period of time and accepting the fact that they change ever so slowly. As detectives we pry, we question, pulling information from suspects until 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?”
Stevie left the piano and settled into a chair facing Reggie. She pulled her knees up close to her chest, her arms encircling and holding them tightly.
“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 me on our own. I am a homebody. I need a center of gravity which to me is my living space and my piano.” Stevie unwrapped her knees and leaned toward Reggie. “Why are you a detective?”
“I like thinking that I am fighting to make things right. My father was a detective and I admired his strength of character and his integrity. I still admire those qualities in him”
Stevie saw a shadow cross Reggie’s face when he mentioned his father. She knew very little about him but had seen his picture in a book at the station.
He continued with a darker tone in his voice. “Sometimes my optimism gets jaded by the corruption I see. You and I have a front row seat to see the worst in people.” But then his face burst into a smile. “But, heck, being a detective beats sitting in front of a computer all day!”
“Sitting in front of a piano has the same effect on your behind.” Stevie laughed comfortably. “So what did you think of the Rhapsody?”
“The sound was beautiful; a lot of sound.”
“Liszt was accused of writing too many notes and not enough music.” And it’s true, she thought. His music was often complicated by design.
“So, show me exactly where the fragment is located in your music edition.”
Stevie joined Reggie on the couch, with the music book in one hand and the autograph manuscript in the other. She wondered what it looked like to Reggie? The handwritten page had wild scrawls of ink, punctuated with little dots. It wouldn’t seem valuable if you couldn’t read the notes and hear the vivid sounds in your head.
“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’re right. A copyist made other manuscript copies of this piece. But notice how there is a shadow of a different number behind the four?” She leaned over to bring the document closer to Reggie. “That shows that Liszt hesitated, and almost started in another time signature.” With her finger she pointed at the page. “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?”
Stevie noticed that Reggie looked sincerely interested. “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.
Reggie took the document out of her hands. “You know, we need to get these papers booked in as evidence at the police station on Monday if they have any tie to the murder of Judith Whitesides.”
“Yes, I know.” Stevie bristled at his implication that she was irresponsible. Reggie always did things by the book. It made him a trustworthy detective but sometimes a little too rigid.
“If this is so valuable why do you think Judith left it out among her papers at home instead of locked up somewhere?”
Stevie thought Reggie was still skeptical of it’s value as would most people outside of the music world. She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe Judith was unaware that someone was trying to steal it. It was tucked into a thin music score in the bottom of her cabinet. The murderer must have been looked for it. Sometimes what is in an obvious place is overlooked. The crime scene team gathered many fingerprints in the music room so any one of those people could have searched her drawers.”
Reggie went back into the dining room and picked up some letters from the stack of correspondence. Stevie followed and settled into a chair across from him.
“Here is a letter from The Library of Congress. Listen to this. ‘Dear Ms. Whitesides, Your inquiry about the discovery of a missing Liszt autograph manuscript fragment is very exciting. We look forward to working with you in accepting this gift.”
Reggie handed the letter over to Stevie. She wondered how Judith came upon the fragment and how she thought she had authority to give it to The Library of Congress?
“Here is another letter. This time from a Professor Kemény in Budapest, Hungary. ‘Dear Judith, I am under the assumption that you will be turning over the autograph manuscript to me as we have discussed previously. My first payment has been made to your account.” Reggie stopped reading. “Wait…, this may be the colleague her husband referred to. That album I found upstairs in her bedroom had a picture of an older gentleman with her. It is possible that he was the professor.”
Stevie’s mind started pulling together memories of seeing the large deposits on Judith’s bank account. “This is starting to smell fishy if she promised to give it to the Library of Congress and also promised to sell it to the professor.” A new picture of Judith began forming. Was she dishonest in her dealings?
“Hey, here is another letter from that same guy in Hungary.” Reggie looked up. “Whoa, he is threatening Judith if she doesn’t hand over the fragment.” He put down the letter and picked up several more. “And, there are a few more letters with the same basic message. This one is dated last month.”
“I wonder where exactly she found this manuscript. These autograph manuscripts are not lying around just anywhere. I suspect she found it while she was in Budapest.” A motive for murder was emerging.
“Tomorrow we need to go into the station and do some background research on Kemény. And while we’re at it, let’s find out more about Tony Chavez and Dominik Horak.”
Stevie sifted through more papers, setting aside a pile for letters. She would soon give them all away as evidence. A longing to keep the autograph manuscript seeped into her thoughts. Did Judith feel this same temptation?
Stevie saw Reggie glance at his watch. He was ready to quit.
“I need to get going. First thing tomorrow we gather up information on these leads.”
Stevie followed him to the door with a pillow clutched to her chest. She had enjoyed the evening with him more than she should.
Reggie 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 as he stepped outside into the night.