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.
The final, edited novel will be published on Amazon Kindle.
This work is (c) 2018 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post.
Night Songs: Chapter Three
“Mickey?” Dominic Zimmerman stirred. He had fallen asleep in the old leather recliner tucked into the corner of the living room.
“Pop?” Mickey set her slingback pumps down with a clatter on the living room floor. “I tried to be quiet and tiptoe in – I’m sorry I woke you.”
“No, No.” Dominic eased the footrest down. The arms of the old chair were patched with duct tape. He leaned over and clicked the three-way lamp switch so that the light turned up as high as it could go.
He blinked at the wall clock, a 1970s black starburst monstrosity that had always graced the long wall of the Zimmerman living room, the wall across from the couch. The living room was shabby, faded, the 1970s Ethan Allen sofa and matching wing chair the nicest things in the entire room because they were kept for “company”. The house smelled like bacon – her dad must have had bacon and eggs for dinner as well as breakfast. His culinary repertoire was limited to cans of soup, bacon, and eggs.
Dominic adjusted the afghan so that it covered the duct tape. He cleared his throat. “So? How was the concert? You get your story, Lois Lane?”
“Awful, Pop.” Mickey sank into the brown plaid wing-back chair next to her father’s recliner and rubbed the arch of her left foot. She winced. “Someone died.”
“What?” Dominic sat bolt upright, pounding the footrest of the recliner into position with his slippered feet. “Some old geezer had a heart attack or something when the cannons went off in the 1812 Overture?”
“Pop,” Mickey chuckled, “You’re awful.” Abruptly, she stopped laughing. “No, worse than that. The director of the music school was murdered.”
“Aw, Mickey! They catch the guy?”
Mickey shook her head. “No. We had to all meet one on one with the police, give our statements and our addresses and such. It took a long time.”
“I can imagine. What happened?”
“Pop, it’s after three a.m.! We should both be in bed.”
“So? You got somewhere to go tomorrow, Cinderella? Tell your old man what happened.” Dom linked his fingers behind his head, leaning back. The recliner creaked in protest.
Mickey sighed and closed her tired eyes. “I got there and met an old friend. Pop, you remember Dave Zardon?”
“Course I remember Dave. Tall geeky kid with pimples. Played flute or something?”
“Piano. He went to music school after graduation. He was one of our group of friends, the kids who always hung out in our basement on Saturday nights listening to music and stuff.”
“I didn’t pay much attention to that,” Dominic admitted. “Your mother kept an eye on you and your sister and your friends. So, he was a friend, from high school. What’s he doing now?”
“He’s a teacher, a music professor and the dean of Raphael’s Music School. He’s the one who found this piano, this special piano the magazine sent me to write about.”
“The Rham something.”
“Rhambacher. It’s the only one left in the whole world. And it’s supposed to be cursed.” Mickey opened her eyes and looked over at her father. The old man was scrunched into the chair, his blue and green plaid bathrobe open at the neck revealing an old white undershirt. “Although the curse is supposed to be on the person who plays the piano, not the person who funds its purchase.”
“So who was killed?”
“Dr. Halloway. He is – was – the president of the music school. Someone hit him in the head with a desk lamp.”
Dom clacked his dentures as he pursed his lips. He shook his head. “Lousy way to go. How did all this happen and nobody saw or heard anything? I thought the school was filled with people tonight for this special concert.”
“It was. Pop, it was filled with people! I saw Dave when I got there and we talked. He’s engaged to that former super model – you remember her, the one with long dark hair that goes on forever and the weird eyes.”
“Yeah, sort of slanty.”
“Almond shaped I think they call it. She’s scary beautiful in person and she smells like cloves.” Mickey shook her head, trying to shake off Jasmine’s glamour as well as the evening’s events. “Anyway, I met Dave, and he introduced me to Jasmine. She’s the vice president of communications for the school.”
“Shouldn’t she be off trying to act in movies or something?” Dom shifted in his chair, wincing as his arthritis cracked a warning from somewhere deep in his spine. “Isn’t that what former super models do?”
Mickey shrugged. “What do I know? She’s at the school, she’s doing PR. We didn’t hear anything because we were all inside the concert hall. The school has this special building for concerts, the Belz Auditorium. To the left is a hall that leads to the offices, to the right, a hall leading to practice rooms and upstairs are classrooms.”
“Where is this guy’s office?”
“To the left of the auditorium, behind thick doors,” Mickey said ruefully. “The problem with a murder at a music school is that most of the offices are soundproofed too. Dave told the police that most of the teachers like him use their offices both for academic work and for private sessions with students. His own office has a piano in it. Dr. Halloway’s office was a former practice room, so it had thick cinderblock walls and sound blocking tiles. Even if there was a fight or something, nobody would have heard it back there. And we were all listening to Catherine Majak playing the Rhambacher piano.”
“Was she good?”
“Excellent, but then again, I’ve heard her play at C.W. Post. I covered her concert last spring for Long Island Happenings.”
Dominic smiled and nodded. “That was a good piece. I read that. You’re a good writer, Mickey.”
She blushed under her father’s praise. “Aw, Pop. Anyway, I didn’t see or hear anything, so the police let me go. But what a nightmare for the school! They spent so much money, so much time promoting the unveiling of the Rhambacher, and now all the headlines are going to be about the stupid curse.”
“Even though the lady who played left the concert hall just fine.”
“Exactly. Someone died. That’s all they’ll remember.” Mickey bent to grab the straps of her shoes, then rose and padded to her father’s side. She leaned over and gave his whiskery cheek an affectionate kiss. “I locked up, Pop, and turned off the kitchen light. Good night.”
“Good night, Dumpling,” he said, rising creakily from his recliner with a smile. He turned and called over his shoulder as he shuffled off to bed. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
Her cell phone shrilled, jolting her from dark dreams of shadows chasing her around and around a castle. Mickey fumbled for the smartphone and answered, glancing at the digital clock on the night table. Six thirteen a.m. “Hello?”
“Mickey? Did I wake you?”
“Dave? Yeah, you did. Everything okay?”
“Yeah. The police closed the building down so we closed school down today.” She heard him swallow and pictured his very visible Adam’s apple bobbing in his slender throat. “Um, Mickey, about last night…what I said…”
“You mean when you asked Jas if she lied?”
“Um, yeah.” Mickey sat up, pushing the pillows behind her head. If she lay down again she’d probably nod off while Dave was on the phone with her. “I didn’t mean to imply that Jas had anything to do with Stanley’s death. She couldn’t anyway.”
“No, she couldn’t,” Mickey yawned. “She walked with me from the lobby to the concert hall and we sat down together. It’s what I told the police, Dave. She never left my side since the moment you introduced us.”
“That’s what I thought,” he breathed with audible relief. “Thanks for clarifying.”
“Is that why you called me? I told the police all of this already.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just…” Dave paused. Mickey wondered if he was still at Raphael’s or if he had gone home. He’d mentioned that he lived only a few blocks away on West 72nd, a posh neighborhood near the Dakota. Probably Jas paid for the apartment, she thought. “It’s just that Jas didn’t get along with Stanley. She hated him, in fact.”
“Did you tell that to the police?”
“No, and I won’t either. What does it matter, anyway?”
Mickey shrugged and yawned again. “Listen, Dave, if it’s not too much to ask, can we continue this conversation another time? I just got in around three and it’s only a little after six.” The street light still crept through the slats of the Venetian blind in her room, a sure sign it was still well before dawn on the cool October morning.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, “I didn’t realize. I’m a night owl. I’m still wired from everything that happened last night.”
“It’s okay. But don’t worry. Jasmine was with me the whole time.”
“Wait, Dave? Before you go, I have a favor to ask.”
“Can I come back this week and photograph the Rhambacher and interview you? For the story I’m supposed to be writing for the magazine. It would make a great story, now that I know you are the one who found the Rhambacher.”
He paused. “Yeah, sure, I guess so. Sure, why not. How about tomorrow? The police should be done by then and the school reopened. I can meet you at 10 a.m. if that suits you?”
“That’s fine.” Mickey didn’t have to check in at the publications office until Friday when she had a mandatory weekly staff meeting to attend. “Thanks, Dave. Call me if anything changes.”
She clicked off her cell phone and dropped it on the night table, diving under the covers and pulling the comforter up to her chin. But sleep would not come. Dawn crept through the blinds, and the far window, which she had cracked open for air when she’d stumbled in around three a.m. dripped the liquid sound of morning birdsong into the room. The chilly air was redolent with the crisp scent of October leaves, acorns dropping from the oak on the lawn, fresh mown grass and the promise of frost around the corner.
She slid out of bed around seven and pulled on her sweatshirt, sliding an elastic over her thick curly hair. With one hand she grabbed the laptop that was always within reach and propped it open on the bed.
“Something’s up,” she whispered under her breath as she typed Jasmine Lord + David Zardon into the search bar. A stream of articles and red carpet photos popped up along with Jasmine’s Sports Illustrated covers, her Lancome advertisements. She was creepy looking, Mickey thought, examining the dark eyes that seemed to whisper something malevolent.
I’m just making things up, Mickey told herself firmly as she scrolled past articles solely about Jas. She wanted to find out what Dave had been up to since he had helped her pass Music Theory in their senior year of high school. She knew he had won a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music; she knew his mother had passed away in their sophomore year of high school since his mom ran the local bakery, and her dad, who couldn’t miss a Sunday without a chocolate cake and a loaf of cinnamon raising bread to tide him through the week, had told her all about it.
But Dave Zardon, the super geek, and Jasmine Lord, the super model? Why was he so suspicious of her?
And why was the super model working for a relatively unknown music school in the middle of Manhattan?
So many questions, so few answers.
Biting her lower lip in concentration, she scanned the articles, searching for she knew not what. But something, anything that would help her understand how the gangly teenager she had known so many years ago could now be the Dean of a music school and about to be married to a former model.
She had snapped a few photos with her cell phone, so she decided to set aside the laptop and scroll through her snapshots instead. She smiled when she saw one she had asked a waiter to take of her with Dave; she’d send him this one juxtaposed with their prom photo. What a laugh! They hadn’t been dating or anything, just good friends, and had gone as such to the prom. After all, Dave had already owned a tuxedo so he had few costs…
She scrolled through the images. She’d only taken a few, and two of them were bombs, moments when her thumb slid onto the shutter button on the cellphone screen. One was a shot of feet – it looked like she’d been putting her phone away and accidentally snapped a photo of shoes, Jas’ Louboutain heels with their trademark red soles, Dave’s rather scuffed dress shoes.
But the next image made her gasp. It was another bomb, taken of the recital hall before the curtain rose to reveal the Rhambacher. There was the hall in dim amber lights, the velvet seats glowing ruby; there were a few guests in their seats, consulting programs.
Who was the man in the black scholar’s robes standing on the stage?
And why could she see through him?
Night Songs (c) 2018 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
Night Songs: Table of Contents