Night Songs: Chapter Two
Dave leaped from his seat and slid past the others in their row as he bolted for the center aisle. On stage, Catherine Majek fumbled the passage, then stopped abruptly as the house lights came on. The Metropolitan Museum of Art director who had made the opening speech dashed onto the stage, waving his hands and searching the audience frantically. The audience whispered, murmured, until the murmurs grew to a swelling sea of sound.
The pianist frowned, her eyes narrowed. She pushed back the bench and folded her arms across her chest.
“Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen!” The Met director, Thaddeus Kowalski, screeched. The audience stilled, everyone staring at him as he shouted above the din. “Please remain seated. There has been…an accident.”
Catherine Majek beckoned the Kowalski over. Dave meanwhile scaled the steps on the right side of the stage two at a time. He met the director center stage, conferred with him and with Catherine, then nodded and murmured to the pianist. She nodded, pointed to the Rhambacher, and Dave nodded ascent. He grabbed the Met director’s arm and pulled him off stage.
Catherine pulled closer to the piano, paused, then began playing again. Dave must have spoken to the lighting director for the house lights dimmed again. Patrons who rose from their seats hastily scurried back to their places as the rich strains of the Beethoven sonata continued to weave their magic over the packed theater.
Mickey leaned over to Jasmine. “What happened?”
Jas shrugged. “Haven’t the faintest. By Dave’s expression, I’d say something fairly serious. He’ll call me if he needs me.”
Just then her cell phone vibrated. She pulled the slim smartphone from a jeweled bag tucked discretely on her lap and glanced at the text. With a tap of her finger she pushed it over to Mickey. Mickey gasped when she read the display.
Police called. Stanley’s dead.
Jasmine was already pushing her phone back into her bag and rising, pulling Mickey in her wake. “Stanley Halloway, the President of the music school. Come on. This is going to be a PR nightmare.”
And a reporter’s dream, Mickey thought, wondering if she should call the news desks. Better yet, maybe she could snap a few pictures with her cellphone and call the story in to the night desk. It would be an incredible scoop and she was here, on the scene….
Jasmine glided with catlike precision up the center aisle, Mickey stumbling behind her in the dark. They pushed through the swinging doors under the exit sign and entered the brightly lit lobby. Already, two security guards stood at the door holding cell phones and walkie talkings.
“Sorry Miss Lord, no one can leave.” One of the guards detached himself from a doorway leading to the left where a sign pointed to the offices of the president, the bursar, the dean and practice rooms.
“I’m not trying to leave. Where is Dave? Where is Stanley?”
“In his office,” the guard said. “It’s not pretty. I wouldn’t go in if I were you.”
“What was he doing in his office while a recital was in progress, especially one like this?” Jasmine muttered, brushing aside the security guard as her ice pick heels clipped down hallway. “Mickey, are you coming?”
Mickey trotted behind Jasmine, huffing as she struggled to keep up with the public relations person. They didn’t have far to go. Lights blazed along the corridor. Mickey immediately smelled a strong, coppery odor, mixed with something she couldn’t place but that reminded her of a women’s restroom when a toilet overflowed. She stopped abruptly on the threshold as she realized what she smelled.
Jasmine halted and raised a hand over her face. “Oh my God. Dave, did you go in there?”
“No.” Dave stood in the doorway. His face was as white as his tuxedo shirt. Next to him, the Met director perspired and swiped a handkerchief over his pale brow.
“Are you sure he’s – he’s dead?” Mickey heard her voice rise.
“There’s no doubt about it.”
Now they heard radios crackling, the authoritative dark tones of a dispatcher from a police radio calling numbers, codes. Two officers strode to the doorway.
“Who called it in?” the first barked.
“I did,” Dave said, stepping forward. “It’s – it’s Stanley Halloway, the President of the school. I’m afraid he’s dead.”
“Did anyone go into the room?” All four shook their heads and murmured no. The officer pushed forward, took one look inside the room, and shoved them all out and down the hall back to the lobby.
“No one leaves. Is that understood? What’s going on here tonight?”
“A concert,” Jasmine swallowed. “We acquired a rare piano for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s instrument collection and have it on loan for a month. Tonight is the first of several concerts and recordings we have planned.”
The officers asked them to wait. Jasmine and Mickey slid onto a padded burgundy leather bench near the coatcheck room while Dave paced, counting off the tiles as he slipped between the black and whites. Thaddeus meanwhile mopped his brow and asked one of the passing waiters for a glass of water.
“What should we do?” Dave muttered.
“Whatever the police say we should do!” Thaddeus moaned. He mopped his brow again, flapping the handkerchief as if he surrendered. “I knew acquiring the cursed piano was a mistake. A mistake!”
“The cursed piano?” Mickey asked.
“Oh, that old tale,” Jasmine snorted. “The Rhambacher is cursed. You idiot, the curse isn’t supposed to affect those who buy the thing, just those who play it.”
Mickey had a sudden mental image of the gorgeous Catherine Majek, young, talented. “I hope the performer isn’t cursed.”
“She’s married to hedge fund manager David Majek,” Jasmine snapped. “I doubt her life is cursed. Charmed, more like it.”
The police returned, followed by paramedics and more officers. The area was being sealed off. One of the officers approached.
“Who is in charge?”
Dave swallowed. “I…I guess that’s me.”
“And you are?”
“Dr. David Zardon. I’m Dean of the Music School.”
“He’s acting president now,” Jasmine said, rising gracefully to her feet and towering over the officers. Mickey wondered briefly what it would feel like to be a giant like the former super model. “I’m Jasmine Lord. Public Relations and Communications Veep. Officers, what can we do to assist?”
“Stop the concert,” the officer said grimly. “This is going to be a long night. Where were all of you when Dr. Halloway left the stage?”
“In the audience,” Dave said. “Jasmine, Mickey and I had seats together in the orchestra section.”
“And you?” The officer turned to Kowalski.
“I? Surely you’re not suggesting — ”
“You were the last person with Dr. Halloway.”
“I was on stage with him, in front of 200 guests!”
“But you left the stage with him.”
“He received a phone call,” Kowalski said. “His cell phone vibrated. He glanced at it, said he’d be right back, and went to his office. The last I saw of him he was going down that little hallway to the left of the stage.”
“That leads back to the hallway where the business offices are,” David said.
More official personnel arrived. The music stopped and the house lights came on in full inside the theater. They heard the announcement from the lobby.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the police. I’m afraid there has been an incident. Please remain calm and seated. We would like to speak with everyone before you can go home. I’m afraid the rest of the concert and the gala is cancelled.”
A cry of dismay came from the audience. Jasmine started as if to head towards the theater, but the officer stopped her. “No, Miss Lord, let the officers handle this. We’ll need private spaces where we can talk to people. Can we use any offices?”
“The practice rooms are down that hallway,” Dave pointed towards the right of the recital hall. “Each room has at least two chairs, a piano and a music stand. Will that do? There are 20 soundproof practice rooms.”
“Perfect. We can take statements there.”
Mickey watched as more people came into the lobby. It was crowded now with emergency responders and uniformed personnel. Dave’s pacing stilled as he paused next to Jasmine, watching the unfamiliar activity. All around them, noise rose and fell in waves. Strangers in uniform swept into the music school. The security guards for the event walked with police officers towards the empty practice rooms, talking and gesturing. Everywhere was noise, confusion.
It was so noisy that Mickey almost missed Dave’s harsh whisper to Jasmine. She jerked around to face them. Dave bent low, his face inches from Jasmine’s.
“Jas, if you lied to me…”
The Great Novel Experiment: I publish one chapter a week of my novel, Night Songs, for your enjoyment, entertainment, and critique. This supernatural tale is G – PG rated.
This work is (c) 2018 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
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