“Although Liszt was clearly a musical genius, he insisted on projecting a tonal, romantic “beauty” in his music, confining his music to a narrow range of moral values and ideals.”
Letters of Franz Liszt: Volume 1
Judith closed the lid of the Steinway piano. The light coming through the window was off-center. Her practice was suffering due to the disturbance of harmony in her room. She readjusted the vase of roses. She would wait a few minutes until the light shifted.
Reggie parked his car outside the bungalow the next morning. He did not honk but opened the car door and started walking to the front. He stopped when he saw Stevie come out of the garage. She wore a dark, fitted pantsuit and bright yellow shirt. A thin red patterned scarf surrounded her neckline. Her long umber hair, which was often tucked into a hat, flowed like chocolate sauce. Reggie liked the contrast of the yellow shirt against her hair. A backpack was loosely hanging from her shoulders. When they were both settled into the car, Reggie turned to Stevie and asked,“Need some coffee?”
“You know I don’t drink caffeine. Are you really forgetting or are you wanting to get my attention?” Stevie teased.
“Nah, I didn’t forget. Reach behind you. There is a chamomile tea and milk concoction for you and some black juice for me.”
“Thank you. Where do we start today?”
“What other contact information have you pulled off Judith Whitesides’ phone?’
“I have her recent calls, her business calendars, texts from students and a text from her husband when he arrived in Seattle. There are e-mails from a contact in Prague having to do with music manuscripts.”
“How did you figure out her password on the phone?” Stevie often surprised him with her technical prowess.
“I guessed she might use an Italian musical reference. After a few tries it opened with the password ‘rubato'.”
“So what does that mean?”
“Rubato is a musical term which means temporarily leaving a strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slowing, usually without altering the overall pace. Yes, that is a direct quote.” She laughed when Reggie raised his eyebrows. “Romantic composers like Chopin and Liszt used rubato to heighten the feeling of the music. I can guess she played their music because they used rubato often in their compositions.”
“So, tell me again why you know so much about music.”
“I majored in music performance once upon a time.” She said. “I thought that one day I would be a concert pianist like my mother, but I stalled and found the constant comparisons to my peers left me empty and lacking direction. I shifted to criminal law to distance myself from the arts.”
“So, do you play much these days?
“Every time I’m home. I need it like I need air to breathe.” Stevie raised her voice with meaning and then giggled. “That sounded dramatic but I do love to play, very much. Are you surprised?”
“I guess I am. You don’t talk much about music.”
“It is a personal haven. What is your personal haven from solving crimes? Do you run, swim, work out at a club?”
It was odd to Reggie that they didn’t talk about personal things. Would she laugh when he confessed that he liked putting together model airplanes? He liked it as much now as when he was a boy. Often when his mind was cluttered with facts about a case, he would mentally go inside a recent project and turn the plane around in his head to see how it would fit together.
“I construct model airplanes.”
“Really?” She paused. “Why are you drawn to that?”
“I like that hundreds of small pieces come together perfectly to create the whole model. Not unlike solving a case, but with less drama and deception.”
The ferry was coming into the dock and Reggie readied his police badge to show at the the booth.
“Where shall we go first?” Reggie was expecting that they would go back to the victim’s house to do a second search. Stevie recommended a closer stop. “According to Judith’s contacts, Mrs. Taylor and her son live right off the main highway in town. Let’s do another interview before we go back to Judith’s house.”
Reggie slowed the car looking for the address. The street was lined with large trees and over hanging branches. It seemed quiet. A mailbox with black and white music notes gave away the correct destination.
“There is is.” Stevie pointed to the house just off the road which seemed small and older but neat and tidy. They parked in a turn-around driveway. As they approached the front door to knock Stevie noticed three metal musical notes attached to the front of the house.
“Hello?” Mrs.Taylor opened the door with surprise.
“Mrs.Taylor? Detectives Dangerfield and Watts. Could we come in and ask you some more questions about Judith Whitesides?”
“Okay,…. please come in.” She opened the door wider and motioned them to sit. A black lacquered baby grand filled almost half the space of the living room.
“What a beautiful piano.” Stevie touched the cool surface of the open lid.
“Thank you, I’m lucky to have it.”
Stacks of music books and sheet music surrounded the music stand. On the side of the piano Stevie saw a jar of pencils, post-it notes, and a small dish of black licorice. The candy surprised her because most people preferred red licorice and because she remembered seeing the same candy at Judith’s. From the piano, Stevie’s eyes went to the walls. She couldn’t help noticing the paintings. Most of them were sunrises over water. The colors were varied, some soft pastel but one was a bright ruby red.
Stevie sat down in a brown over-stuffed chair on the other side of the room and started the conversation. “Mrs. Taylor, I noticed that you had a lesson scheduled with Judith on Wednesdays right after your son.”
“Please, call me Linda. Yes, I’ve been taking lessons for the last year. Judith had much to offer as a teacher of classical music. I’m a piano teacher, too. She really opened my understanding of Bach and Liszt.”
“So you were competitors?” Reggie asked.
“Not really.” Linda laughed. “Judith attracted more advanced students and some adults which is why I started my son with her. Judith had a master’s degree in piano pedagogy and supported my desire to continue my own education.” Sudden tears glistened in Linda’s eyes. “I will miss her tutoring very much. She was inspiring and maddening at the same time. Sometimes she seemed pretentious when she talked about her teaching lineage but I enjoyed her vast knowledge and love of music.”
Stevie remembered the idea of a teacher pedigree. So many nuances in music could not be written in the score. Each music era had a style that was passed from teacher to student in a ‘hands on' fashion. Sound over notation transmitted more than could ever be read on the musical page.
"Her teacher’s, teacher’s, teacher’s, teacher was taught by Franz Liszt, who in turn was taught by Carl Czerny, and Czerny was taught by Beethoven. I’m dropping a lot of big names here aren’t I?” Linda stopped talking suddenly.
“I’m following.” Stevie encouraged her to go on.
“She was not a cozy teacher. Not every child or even adult could warm up to her. She was exacting, somewhat tactless, and over the top obsessed with the beauty of classical music. Everything around her had to be beautiful, her home, her furniture, even her clothes. That aside, for me she offered information about places in Europe where she studied and taught and where the world of classical music began, which I only knew through books.”
“Did she talk about teachers or colleagues in Europe?”
“She talked to me about research she was did there on the music of Franz Liszt. She was allowed to search the basement of the Liszt Museum in Budapest to sort through old copies of music.”
“What kinds of things was she hoping to find?”
“I believe she was writing a book. She told me once that there were many lost items from the past just sitting in attics and basements. These items lost value from one generation to the next as people lost track of their existence. Someday, someone with knowledge and curiosity would recognize them and bring them back to the light of day."
Reggie interrupted somewhat impatiently. “Do you know of anyone who wanted to do her harm?”
“Why?” Linda looked alarmed and suddenly frightened. “Wasn’t her death an accident?”
Stevie spoke reassuringly. “We are unsure of the cause of death. These inquiries are standard. Could you tell us again what you observed Wednesday at your lesson time? We especially need to know anything you noticed when you went into her bedroom.”
Linda shifted on her chair and looked out the large window. She placed her hand over her heart. “As I entered her bedroom I was immediately drawn to her sleeping body. She looked peaceful. The shades were drawn but sunlight was escaping in between the blinds.” She turned to Stevie with frightened eyes. “Who would want to hurt her?”
“That is what we need to find out. Did you see anything on her nightstand?”
“What?” She pondered with her hand still on her heart holding her memory steady. “Ah….there was a lamp, a music score, and maybe a glass of water. I—I can’t remember for sure.”
Reggie abruptly ended the conversation.“Thank you for being so helpful. If you have any ideas or thoughts, here is our card.”
Stevie ignored Reggie and asked about her son.“Was the death of his piano teacher traumatic for him?”
“He has been quiet. I noticed that he has played the pieces which she assigned him many times in the last day. Judith occasionally made him mad but he made good progress once he started with her. She will be hard to replace.”
As Stevie prepared to leave she looked around at the paintings on the wall. “You seem to have a strong sensitivity to beauty yourself. I can see why you appreciated Judith’s aesthetics. May I ask you a personal question related to teaching? Do you think ten-thousand dollars a month is average for a piano teacher’s income?”
Linda’s mouth dropped open. “What? Well, I don’t make that much. Judith was charging us seventy-five dollars an hour and I could barely come up with that fee every month. I suppose if she worked everyday for at least six hours that could be right. But, I got the impression she had, at the most, five students on Wednesdays. Her lessons were mostly forty-five minutes to an hour long. My son and I shared an hour lesson.”
“Thank you, Linda. You have been most helpful.” She glanced at Reggie who was pacing at the front door, ready to leave.
As they pulled out of the driveway Stevie asked why Reggie was so eager to leave. His green eyes opened wide in surprise. Wasn’t he aware that he ended the conversation with Mrs. Taylor tactlessly?
“I didn’t think she had anything new to offer the investigation. I talked to her yesterday. We need to get back to the crime scene. You look irritated. Was I wrong?”
Stevie answered carefully, “I was gathering more information from someone who genuinely cared for our victim. Linda Taylor understood Judith’s life and I feel she might yet have some insights for us. She certainly knows more of what is going on with Judith than her husband.”
Reggie nodded and then looked over at Stevie. “I’m sorry if I cut you off. Once we understand how she died we can target our investigation. The coroner’s report is the next essential piece of information.”