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Authors: Louise Marley

The Brahms Deception (3 page)

BOOK: The Brahms Deception
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The text was barely legible beneath the staff, written in a spidery hand:
Guten Abend, gute Nacht, mit Rosen bedacht . . .
Oh, to see it in manuscript, the very first version! To hear Brahms humming the melody, to see Clara's sensitive hands, so graceful on the keys . . .
Now Frederica hovered behind Clara, so near she could have encircled her with her arms. She was so close she felt she could count the beats of Clara's heart, could smell the fragrance of her skin. She imagined the cool touch of the keys beneath her fingers, and the warmth of Brahms beside her. His hand, when he lifted it to turn the page, was thick and strong and masculine, with delicate black hairs along the back.
Frederica wanted to feel him. To touch him. She wanted to
in Castagno of 1861, not merely
it. She craved it with all her soul. Her desire was so powerful she was sure her temperature must be rising on the cot in the transfer room.
When Brahms pressed his cheek to Clara's smooth sweep of hair, Frederica had to look away for fear she would choke with sheer frustration.
The neon sign outside Angel's Bar sputtered in the wet Boston fog, its unsteady light glowing pink and orange on the keys of the piano. Kristian North, seated at the battered baby grand, squinted up through the window. “Hey, Rosie,” he called to the bartender. “Is Angel ever going to fix that damned sign?”
She leaned around one of her customers, and shook her dyed curls. “Nope. He says it works fine.”
Kristian groaned, and let his fingers turn to “It Had to Be You.” One of his regulars was at the far end of the bar. She looked up from her drink and gave him a bleary smile. “I love that song,” she called.
“I know you do,” he said, grinning. “Me too.” He was telling her the truth. He did like the old song, even if the lyrics cut a little close to the bone these days. Of course, his patron wouldn't know that. He wondered if the words meant something special to her, made her yearn for lost love. He hoped not. It was a clever rhyme, but who could really be glad to be sad?
It was nearly eleven, and the place was beginning to quiet down. Angel's customers were older, and generally tuckered out and headed to their beds by midnight, even on Fridays.
Kristian finished the song, and the regular came to tuck five dollars into the snifter he kept on the piano. Kristian nodded his thanks. “Hey, Winnie. You need a newer song.”
Winnie gave him a tipsy smile. “I like that one.”
“It must be seventy-five years old.”
She ran a veined hand over her iron gray hair. “So am I,” she said, and laughed.
“What about this one?” Kristian modulated, and began “For Once in My Life,” humming the tune under his breath. Winnie gave him a vague smile, and teetered off toward the foyer, where the flickering neon turned her silver hair pink. Kristian watched her go, automatically playing through the verse, then modulating again, letting his fingers wander off into snatches of other songs. He looked around the bar, where no more than six or eight customers still sat. Rosie caught his eye from behind her spigots and glasses, and shrugged.
Kristian grinned at her. Eleven o'clock. No one was paying much attention to him.
He brought his random chord progression to a reasonable cadence, and lifted his hands from the keyboard for a minute. He sipped from the glass of water beside him, shook his fingers, then poised them above the keys, thinking.
No Schumann, not tonight. Or Brahms. He hadn't played either one in six months. It hurt too much.
He wanted something big, something noisy and energetic. He waited for a moment, listening to the buzz of conversation, the percussive tinkle of ice cubes, the occasional staccato laugh, and then he struck the opening notes of the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven. He played the descending thirds with both hands, double parallel octaves, the piano reduction he had learned in high school. A few heads turned his way, newcomers to Angel's. Rosie laughed behind the bar. The regulars lifted their glasses, acknowledging the moment. They were used to him. They expected it of him.
The movement was
Allegro con brio,
and he played it very
indeed, as fast and as loud as he could make the tired old piano sound. He blasted through the movement, ignoring the
markings, playing
. When he reached the end, someone said into the sudden silence, “What the hell was that?”
Someone else answered, “That's our maestro. Studied at Juilliard so he could come back and play at Angel's!” There was general laughter. Kristian saluted, two fingers to the shock of hair that fell over his forehead, then turned back to the piano. His snifter was full of money, which was good, because he was done with pop songs for the night.
He launched into a sprightly Mozart sonatina, enjoying the way the notes sparkled from his fingers. He followed that with a toccata of Khachaturian, muscular and fast, then indulged himself with two Puccini arias. By the time he had played to the end of “O mio babbino caro,” Angel's was nearly empty and Rosie was wiping down the bar for the last time. Kristian finished with a roll of the A-flat arpeggio, and shut the piano cover with a bang. There was no one left to applaud, but he didn't care about that. The last hour was all for him.
“I love Puccini,” Rosie said.
He winked at her. “I know you do, Rosie. That was for you.”
“Thanks, honey.”
He took his glass over to Rosie and handed it to her. “See you tomorrow.”
“Okay, Kris. Listen, honey, you look a little tense. Hang loose, will you?”
He gave her a rueful shrug. “I'm trying.” He had worked here since his college days, hardly missing a weekend except for his eighteen months in New York. Rosie had been here longer than that, and she knew everything there was to know about him.
“Give it time, honey.”
“Yeah. I will. I am.”
She pointed a long red fingernail at the piano. “And don't forget your tips.”
“Oh, right.” He went back to the piano, and turned the snifter over to pour out the bills. It had been a good night. Most of the bills were ones and fives, but there were a few tens. Negligently, he stuffed them in his pocket to count later. It would all go to Juilliard, anyway. Losing his fellowship had been seriously expensive.
He collected his ancient leather jacket from the office and zipped it up to his chin as he walked to the door. The fog had turned to drizzle, and the unsteady neon made a garish curtain of the falling rain. Kristian debated using some of his tip money for a cab, but decided against it. The subway was only four blocks away, and his coat was years beyond rain damage. He waved good night to Rosie, and plunged out into the wet.
He hurried down the sidewalk, turning up his collar as he walked in a nearly vain attempt to keep rain from sliding down the back of his neck. He turned the corner beside the pawnshop, and was about to cross the street when the flickering screen of a television in the window caught his attention. The lights in the shop were all out, and the awning had been retracted for the night. He stood in the rain, staring at the images on the big flat screen with a wide cardboard price tag taped to one corner.
He knew the building in the picture. It was where Remote Research had their offices in Chicago. Sixty-seventh floor, two small but rather well-appointed rooms and a sparsely furnished reception area. He had spent a lot of time there, six months ago.
He stepped closer to the pawnshop window, to get a better look at the screen. It showed a line of protesters, perhaps twenty or thirty of them, marching in a ragged circle outside the building. The camera zoomed in on the signs, which said things like “Beware the Butterfly Effect” and “Leave Our History Alone.” They were clumsy, hand-lettered, ungrammatical. Kris shook his head over “God Forbid Time Travel.”
Braunstein and Gregson would hate this. The two of them— the inventor and the developer of the transfer process—insisted over and over that what their subjects did was not time travel but observation. If it were time travel, Gregson explained repeatedly, then the transfer wouldn't take place in real time, matching the past and the present. The researchers would go one minute and come back the next, not lie on a cot for eight hours.
The protesters cared nothing for this nicety. In fact, none of the Foundation's arguments diminished their fury in any noticeable way. And now there was a bill before Congress threatening to make transferring illegal.
Kris turned away from the display, and dashed across the street to the subway entrance. It was no concern of his, in any case. Not anymore. He supposed this week's transfer had brought out the protesters, but as long as they didn't break anything or interfere with people trying to go in and out of the building that wouldn't matter. Sooner or later the news cameras would lose interest. The first transfer had attracted a lot of attention, but now that there had been ten or twelve, they were routine, hardly a blip in the news cycle. Even the protests had begun to feel a bit tired, like worn-out rituals no one really believed in anymore. If he wanted to know anything about the Brahms transfer, he would have to go to the Foundation's Web site to read the report.
He might not even do that much. He slumped on a seat in the subway, and told himself the emptiness he felt in his belly was just hunger.
He let himself into the apartment as quietly as he could. His sister's wheelchair sat just outside her bedroom door. That was a good sign. She had been able to walk to bed on her own, with only her cane to steady her.
He shed his wet coat, and hung it on a doorknob to drip onto the worn carpet. He walked back to the kitchen, where he took a kitchen towel from the cupboard to dry his hair. He found leftover meat loaf in the fridge and cut two thick slices to pop in the microwave. While it was warming he took a plate out of the cupboard and grabbed a knife and fork from the drawer. He was just applying an opener to a bottle of beer when the phone rang.
He snatched at it, hoping it wouldn't wake Erika. She sometimes had trouble falling asleep. As he put it to his ear, he glanced at the stove clock. Nearly two. Far too late for a friendly call.
“Hello? Is this Kristian North?”
The voice—male, a bit thin—was familiar, but he couldn't place it right away. Tentatively, a little suspiciously, he said, “Yes?” He heard Erika stirring in the bedroom, the click of her cane on the floor, and he swore under his breath. Getting too tired always made her worse.
“Mr. North, I hope you remember me. Robert Gregson, of the—”
“Dr. Gregson,” Kris said, surprised. “Of course I remember you.” The
of the microwave bell made him jump. He looked up from the phone, and saw that Erika had found her way to her wheelchair and was now sitting in the doorway to the kitchen, a worried frown creasing her forehead.
“I apologize for the lateness of the hour.”
“Yes,” Kris answered. The sensation in his belly could not be denied now, and food was not going to assuage it. “What can I do for you, Dr. Gregson—at two in the morning? One there in Chicago.”
“Yes. I'm sorry. It's an emergency.”
Erika whispered, “What is it, Kris? Who's calling?”
He held up a hand to ask her to wait. Still frowning, she wheeled herself to the microwave to take out his meat loaf. “What's the emergency?” Kris said into the phone.
“It's Miss Bannister. Frederica Bannister.”
Kristian's throat suddenly dried. He reached for his beer. “What about her?” He knew he sounded rude, but he hardly cared. It was two in the morning, and Gregson had gotten Erika out of bed. Erika needed her rest. And he didn't owe Gregson a thing.
“She—she didn't wake up.”
Kristian nearly dropped the beer bottle. “
Jesus Christ! Are you telling me she's

“No! Oh, no, no, thank God.” Gregson spoke louder, and now Kristian recognized his voice, the slight buzz as if he was hoarse, the nasal timbre. “No, she's alive. She's breathing; her vitals are good: heartbeat a little elevated sometimes, but—”
“Then what's the trouble?”
There was a moment of heavy silence on the phone. Erika was setting two slices of bread on the plate with the meat loaf, forking two pickles out of a jar. She moved efficiently and silently in her wheelchair between the table and the kitchen counter.
“Mr. North,” Gregson began, then cleared his throat. Kris stared blindly at the rain-streaked window. City lights glimmered through the haze, blurring into smudges of white and amber. “Miss Bannister seems well, but she . . . she just hasn't . . . come back.”
“That makes no sense. I don't need to tell
that! She didn't go anywhere.”
“She was due to wake up—return to consciousness in this time period, as we say—yesterday. She just . . . won't.”
“Won't.” Kristian took a deep drag on his beer, and listened to Gregson fumbling for words.
“Won't. Of course we tried to break the pattern from our end. We—”
“You lost her.”
There was a pause, and Kristian could feel Gregson weighing what was safe to say. “We don't know if that's true or not,” he finally said.
“It must be. There's something wrong with the coordinates.”
“We've been over them a hundred times,” Gregson said. “Our team there in Italy, and Dr. Braunstein here. Everything looks perfect.”
“Except that she won't wake up.”
“That's it. She just—” He sighed, and his voice grew even hoarser. “She just lies there.” Kristian heard the click of Gregson's throat as he swallowed. Sounded like the doctor needed a beer, too. Gregson finished, “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
Kristian rubbed his face with his free hand. “Look, Dr. Gregson. It's late. I worked all evening, and I'm tired. I understand you're tired, too, and you're worried. But this has nothing to do with me, does it? I'm the loser here. She was the winner. Sorry to be blunt, but this isn't my problem.”
BOOK: The Brahms Deception
6.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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