Authors: Randy Ryan C.; Chandler Gregory L.; Thomas David T.; Norris Wilbanks
I wasn’t allowed at my wife’s funeral. Her family said they would shoot me on sight.
Tick tock tick tock.
The verdict was swift. Cop killer. Wife murderer.
The police found gunshot residue on my hands. They matched the bullet in my wife’s head to the one in the gun. The gun was registered in my name. They knew I was the only one at my house when officer Valley was killed. They have ruled out the man in the cowboy hat as a suspect. They claim I used him as a red herring.
More time slips away. Years pass.
I’ve pleaded my case to the chaplain, begged for forgiveness from God. I believe He has absolved me of my sins. I was forced to do what I did, and I did it to save my little girl. I have to make a choice now. I can loop my state-issued orange pants around the cell bars and hang myself, after which I will seek my revenge in hell, both against Millspaugh and the mysterious cowboy. Or I can wait for an under-served death at the hands of the state and maybe, if I’m lucky, find peace somewhere else. If I could ever really find peace among all my anger.
I have until morning to choose.
THE OUTSIDER TRIO
by David T. Wilbanks
Ehrlich flinched as the heavy, oak door slammed shut behind him. The resultant boom echoed about the cavernous entry chamber, ricocheting into silence. The rainfall and the periodic thunder outside had been eliminated by the building’s thick walls.
He shook the droplets from his umbrella and snapped it shut. Like many old buildings, Henning Hall smelled dank and dusty. Malcolm treated himself to a deep sniff for nostalgia’s sake.
He veered to the left as he had done many times before. The walls here were yellowed with age, and toward the ceiling climbed jagged cracks like tree branches, creeping toward ancient chandeliers. Malcolm’s footsteps snapped against the parquet flooring, echoing back to him in marshal rhythm.
It was the same old place.
The unmistakable roar of a full orchestra caused Malcolm to pause mid-step. The music was bold and dissonant. One of the Modern composers then, Bartok perhaps. Or it could be Stravinsky. He never pretended to be an expert even though he appreciated symphonic music and had dated one of the orchestra’s cellists for five years. But that had been before he left the country for two years on overseas business; the cellist hadn’t been too thrilled, to say the least.
However, now that he was back, he hoped Violet DuFresne would be glad to see him again. Perhaps she would even forgive him for what had seemed a good idea at the time.
Malcolm arrived at the main hall’s side entrance. He eased the door back and peeked inside.
The great hall was unlit except for the stage where the orchestra now resided, sawing and blowing away on their instruments, filling the space with a full and magical sound. At the front of the orchestra stood a tall and balding man whom Malcolm recognized at once— it was maestro Hans Kuball, longtime orchestra conductor—still going strong apparently. It seemed Kuball had been old even back when Malcolm was a young boy coming to the music hall with his parents on Saturday evenings.
Malcolm entered, easing the door shut behind him, though even if he had slammed it, the allegro swelling from the stage would have drowned it out easily. He crept to the nearest seat and settled down upon its sagging cushion. Then he scanned the orchestra, looking for
. He looked once. Then again.
She wasn’t there.
He recognized all the cellists but one: a short, round man in a beard, with a serious expression to match the serious music.
Had he taken Violet’s place in the orchestra? If so, where had she gone?
Violet’s absence hurt Malcolm’s heart. It made him realize how much he needed her. Sure, it had taken two years for it to sink into his thick head, but when it
happen, he hadn’t thought twice about halting his lucrative career and coming back here to be with her—forever. He had wanted it to be a surprise. They hadn’t called each other much during his absence because of the time difference and their constantly conflicting schedules. These past few months, he’d been unable to reach her at all because she hadn’t answered her phone. Malcolm had just assumed she’d been busier than usual or on tour with the orchestra.
Of course, the thought that she had given up on him had crossed his mind more than once but he had always pushed it aside.
He had assumed she’d be here today.
He waited for the rehearsal to end, leaning back and closing his eyes, allowing the music to have its way with him. But it wasn’t much help when he was this upset. The dissonance and hectic rhythms increased his anxiety. Anxious music for an anxious age, he supposed. He could do without it.
When the piece ended, Hans Kuball gave a few final instructions to the violinists and strode off, stage left.
The orchestra members stretched and chatted amongst themselves.
Malcolm approached the stage and caught himself searching for Violet again, even though her absence was obvious. He went to the cellists who were familiar to him from when he and Violet had been dating, which included all of them except the new man who may have taken her place; Malcolm found himself resenting the bearded man, even though the gentleman might in fact know nothing at all of Violet’s absence.
The musicians were preparing to leave the stage, smiling and talking to each other except for the new fellow, who looked ready to march off without another word.
“Excuse me,” Malcolm said.
They all stopped conversing and turned to stare at him; he knew his head was all they could see beyond the stage. Even the little cellist glanced over, a quizzical expression on his face.
“I was wondering if any of you know the whereabouts of Violet DuFresne.”
They seemed taken aback by the question. All except the bearded man who now glared openly at Malcolm.
“You haven’t heard?” said a thin, white-haired man, too young-looking for his hair color. “She’s been missing for months. The police have stopped searching.”
Malcolm’s heart dropped to his feet.
“Oh, Karl, you’re such a cad,” said a handsome woman dressed in black. “Don’t you realize who this is?”
“No, I don’t. Why should I?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “Please forgive him. He’s such an idiot sometimes. I’m sorry you had to hear the news in such a tactless manner. I remember you two were very close.”
The little bearded man looked as if he wanted to say something but nothing came out of his mouth.
“No one knows where she is?”
The woman shook her head. The other cellists looked like they wanted to leave posthaste, except the new man who appeared anxious to participate in the conversation yet didn’t seem to know how to go about it.
“All I know,” the female cellist said, “is that before Violet . . . left, she had been talking about quitting the orchestra and joining a smaller ensemble. I forget their name. What was their name, Heinrich? You know.”
The bearded man’s eyes widened at the sudden attention. He stammered. “I . . . I don’t remember their name, Agnes.”
Malcolm didn’t believe the man. He frowned at Heinrich, who looked away, guilt spreading over his perspiring face.
“Oh, you’re as bad as Karl,” Agnes said. “How did I get stuck in an orchestra section with a bunch of boobs? I thought only violists were supposed to be dimwitted.”
“Hey!” someone shouted from offstage, feigning outrage at her comment. Someone else laughed.
“You say the police know nothing?”
Agnes shrugged. “I’d forgotten about it, to tell the truth—until you now just mentioned it. It’s not that I didn’t like Violet; it’s that she became distant. She was almost like a different person at the end.” Agnes sniffed. “I blame that unnamed ensemble that swept her away. Perhaps they all left town and she hadn’t bothered telling anyone. I’m sure the police are thinking along the same lines. After all, no signs of foul play exist. She just vanished.” Agnes sighed. “I’m sorry.” Then she walked offstage, followed by the rest of them.
Malcolm swayed in place.
He looked around for someone else to question, but realized that while he had been standing there stunned for what he estimated to have been only a few minutes, everyone had exited the stage, even Heinrich. Malcolm stood alone.
He raced back down the aisle and out the doors to the hallway. He ran back to the front of the building and rushed out into the pouring rain. As the downpour drenched him, he realized he’d left his umbrella inside but couldn’t have cared less.
Malcolm jogged over to an alleyway that ran alongside the building’s left side and entered its dark mouth.
He dodged dumpsters, trash cans and even a rat which squeaked at him as he passed. Soon, he had reached the backstage door where the musicians were filing out, running to their cars which were parked behind the building in a reserved lot.
He stood, soaked to the bone, hands in pockets, waiting for the little man called Heinrich to exit the building, hoping he hadn’t missed him. Thunder bellowed across the skies and some of the musicians laughed as they plunged through the downpour.
At last, Heinrich appeared. He stopped and glanced around. When he noticed Malcolm, he stepped back and touched the wall to steady himself.
“We need to talk,” Malcolm said.
“Yes. Me and you. Now.”
“I’d rather not. I don’t even know you.” Heinrich had a tenor voice and the hint of a German accent.
“There’s a pub down the street. I suggest we both go there and dry off over a couple drinks. I think you know why I need to speak with you.”
Heinrich stepped toward the back lot, then stopped. Rubbing a hand over his face, he sighed. “Lead on.”
They trudged through the rain. Heinrich had an umbrella but he was too short to share it with Malcolm and Malcolm was too miserable in his wet socks to even bother about it.
Does he know where Violet is
? He had appeared nervous back at the hall while Malcolm had discussed Violet with Agnes. He either knew where she was or—God forbid—had done something with her himself! Malcolm resisted the sudden urge to grab Heinrich by the lapels and shake him until he told all he knew.
They walked abreast, each moving with an urgency toward the pub on the far corner. It was called The Hung Wastrel and stated so in black on white lettering on a wooden sign above the entrance.
They ducked inside and Malcolm led Heinrich to a booth at the back, ignoring the bartender as he scolded them for not using the coat rack near the entrance.
Dripping wet, they slipped into the booth.
The place was low and hazy. An ancient TV chattered and flashed above the bar, its off-color screen aimed at the customers. The people here laughed, murmured or stared into their drinks. The usual pub crowd.
Malcolm gripped the table’s edge and leaned towards Heinrich. “Tell me everything you know about Violet.”
“Can’t we order our drinks first?”
A waitress took their order. Scotch for Heinrich and a gin and tonic for Malcolm, who felt like he needed it. Malcolm sat brooding and Heinrich fidgeted until the drinks arrived.
“Okay, you have your bloody drink now,” Malcolm spat.
Heinrich sipped his scotch, set it down and folded his hands upon the table. He cleared his throat. “I must warn you that you cannot pursue the case of Violet DuFresne any further.”
“Warn me? What are you talking about?”
“The group she joined . . . they are the sorts who do not appreciate others snooping around in their business.”
“What group is this?”
Heinrich’s pursed his lips. “I’m trying to help you. I don’t have to, you know. I could walk right out of here and then you won’t know anything.”
“Then you’ll be walking out of here without your teeth.” Malcolm wasn’t a tough guy by any imaginative stretch, but he meant what he said and he hoped his face showed it. This guy knew where Violet was and Malcolm sensed he needed to find her sooner than later.
Heinrich scanned the pub. Somehow satisfied, he turned back to Malcolm. “You don’t have to threaten me, you know. Besides, any threat from you pales in comparison to the danger of sitting here and discussing this topic.”
“Who has her, Heinrich?”
“They call themselves The Outsider Trio.”
“So you remember their name after all.”
“I do, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell you; now I have decided, despite the danger. You deserve to know what happened and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t tell you. Everyone else has forgotten about her it seems except for you and me.”
Malcolm put his glass to his lips and discovered it was empty except for a few melting shards of ice. He waved it at the server as she walked past and pointed at Heinrich’s glass as well. “So who are these people? Some musical group, I know. But what’s so dangerous about musicians?”