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Authors: Louise Marley

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BOOK: The Brahms Deception
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Clara had been good at languages, Kristian knew, but Italian—that was a surprise. Her back was to Kristian. He watched her reach for a piece of the bread, then pick up a tiny pitcher of olive oil. She drizzled the bread with olive oil, and licked a stray drop off her forefinger. Brahms took an apricot and began to peel it with a small knife. The cook, nodding satisfaction, turned back to her stove. The whole scene was an idyll worthy of one of Brahms's
Lieder
. Kristian wished he could pinch himself to know for certain he was wide awake. That it was all real.
If he could only find Frederica! Surely then they would let him come back. They would give him more time, more freedom. He could investigate, understand what was happening here, how Brahms and Clara had managed this—and why.
He propelled himself—still feeling as if he were actually walking—up the narrow staircase to a tiny landing. There were two small rooms on the second floor, one on each side of the stairs. He peeked into the room on the left, and found a smoothly made bed, its pillows plumped and waiting. There was a washstand, but the ewer and pitcher were empty, and looked as dry as if they had never been filled. There were no clothes on the peg rack behind the door, nor in the rickety pine wardrobe against one wall.
He moved out of that room, and across the landing to the other. This was larger, but nearly filled by a bed with a tall headboard. The bed was covered in crumpled sheets and a pile of blankets. Its pillows had been tossed every which way, and the mattress showed clear impressions of the people who had recently risen from it. It was obvious—though to Kristian the bed seemed hardly large enough for one person, let alone two—that two people had slept in it. The ewer still held wash water, and the pitcher waited near the door to be refilled. A lidded chamber pot sat discreetly behind the open wardrobe door. The wardrobe bulged with the wide, trailing skirts of a woman's dresses. Men's jackets and shirts hung on the peg rack.
Kristian gazed at it all in amazement. After decades of rumors and accusations and gossip, history had decreed this had not happened. Clara Schumann had been above reproach, dedicated to her family, the memory of her husband, and her art. They had dubbed her “the priestess”—and now this! Clara and Brahms together, hidden away from the public eye, finding a way to be alone together after all. There was no denying what he had found here. It would fall to him—Kristian North—to report it. It would be he who would expose this century-old secret to the light of the latter day.
He wandered to the tiny balcony off the bedroom. There was barely room for two people to stand, protected by a scrolled iron balustrade. The vista beyond it was all green trees and kitchen gardens. He examined every corner of the bedroom, then went back to the uninhabited one and did the same. He found no evidence of Frederica Bannister. He scanned the landing, even glancing behind a long, cloudy mirror that hung opposite the stairway. He didn't need to look at his watch. He could feel the minutes passing with every pulse of his blood. His time was swiftly running out. He went back down the stairs toward the kitchen, moving urgently now.
They were still there, the bread now crumbs on their plates, their coffee cups empty. The cook was unwrapping a bloodstained cloth to show them a roast, what looked to Kristian like a leg of lamb. Clara and Brahms nodded over it, and Clara said something that made the cook smile. The cook wrapped it again, and set it in a heavy roasting pan. She washed her hands at the sink, then took up a wide knife and began slicing onions.
Brahms pushed his chair back, and put out his hand to Clara. Kristian watched them avidly, trying to imprint every detail of their appearance, every nuance of hair color, skin tone, manner. As Clara rose, he saw how she touched her hair, that essentially feminine gesture, how she straightened her long skirts so as not to trip over them, how she refolded the lacy scarf at the neck of her bodice. He hovered in the doorway, waiting for her to turn, to show him her face, her eyes, the tilt of her head. He wanted to remember everything about her.
She kept her hand in Brahms's. She turned, took a step toward the doorway. She lifted her gaze in his direction.
Her step faltered. Brahms bumped into her, and exclaimed.
Kristian felt a sudden urge to shrink back, to hide himself, but that was silly. It was, obviously, unnecessary. Clara couldn't perceive him.
But for one long, still moment, she seemed to stare right at him. Her lips parted as her eyes fixed on what must be, to her, an empty doorway.
Kristian gazed back, drinking in the sight of her. Her widowhood was five years old. She had borne the weight of supporting her family on her slender shoulders for a long time, from the first signs of Robert's illness, and it showed in the set of her features. Her small mouth drooped slightly, and her unusual eyes, dark blue, almond shaped, dominated her face with its small, pointed chin and slightly hollow cheeks.
Sorrow and loss had followed Clara all her life. Separated from her mother at an early age, Clara had labored under the burden of a dominating father. She had married against her father's will and been estranged from him for years. She had lost a child in infancy, and then her beloved husband.
Despite all of that, as a woman of forty-one she was beautiful. Her skin was creamy and smooth, her profile clear and nearly perfect. Shadows darkened her eyelids, and faint threads of gray shone at her temples, but these seemed to enhance, rather than detract, from the impact of her appearance. She stirred Kristian in a way no woman of his own time—not even Catherine Clark—could do.
Brahms, behind Clara, said something in German and touched her shoulder. Clara gave a shake of her head, breaking the moment. She uttered a little laugh, and proceeded toward the door, catching up the long hem of her gown in one hand. She smiled over her shoulder at Brahms before she started again toward the door. Her gaze seemed fixed on the salon behind Kristian. It was eerie, feeling that she was looking
through
him.
He drew back, out of the doorway.
Clara swept past him, out of the kitchen and through the foyer. She went into the little salon, turning not to the fortepiano but to the wing chair. She settled herself there, picking up a book from the table. Brahms stepped out through the French windows into the garden. Kristian, with reluctance, tore himself away from staring at Clara. He moved into the kitchen to continue his search.
He examined the room one more time, but still found nothing. He went out beneath the low lintel of the back door into the garden. He made a circuit of the house, passing Brahms on the lawn, smoking a thick cigar and gazing down into the valley. Kristian peered over the stone wall, and circled the olive tree. The sun was climbing high above the tree-lined hills, and the river far below him glittered in its bed. He felt the little tug that meant that his time was up, and a wave of frustration swept over him. He wasn't ready. He hadn't found her.
And he didn't want to leave. He turned, yearning toward the little salon where Clara Schumann sat reading, her graceful neck bent, the book lifted to catch the sunlight on its pages.
Frederica, where are you?
He blinked, and when he opened his eyes he saw the plain, freckled face of the PA bending over him. “I couldn't find her,” he blurted.
“We guessed,” Max said.
“But you were there? Castagno, and Brahms?” Elliott pressed an urgent hand onto Kristian's arm.
“Yeah, I was there. The programming was perfect.”
“I told you!” Elliott said, throwing a glance at Max.
“Perfect this time, anyway,” Max said. He grinned, and brushed a hand over his red fuzz. “Come on, Elliott. Nobody's blaming you.”
Elliott's mouth pinched as he began unhooking wires and tubes. “Everybody's blaming me,” he muttered, reaching across Kristian for one of the connections. “Because there's no one else to blame.”
Kristian murmured something sympathetic, and waited for Elliott to detach the transfer cap. He didn't want to glance across the room at the plain face of Frederica Bannister. His mind was still full of the fragile beauty of Clara Schumann, and of the shock of finding her in Castagno. He needed time to think, to decide how to handle it all.
He thought he would hold the secret to himself for a time. It was as if, for this moment at least, Clara belonged to him, and him alone.
Chiara burst in through the door, out of breath. “
Bene, benissimo!
You're awake.”
Kristian elbowed himself to a sitting position. “Did you think I wouldn't be?”
Chiara pushed at her hair. “You might have gotten lost, too.”
“But you sent me anyway,” Kristian said, chuckling. “Thanks a lot, Doc.”
Max said, “Pay no attention to her. We weren't worried a bit.”
Chiara was smiling, but her glance at the screens above Kristian's head was professional. “You feel well?” she asked.
“Benissimo,”
he said, and she laughed.
“Very good. Now I will speak only Italian with you,” she said.
“Then I'll only understand about a quarter of what you tell me.”
Five minutes later, they were all gathered around the mahogany desk at the end of the room. Chiara sat in a black wheeled office chair, and the men sat on the folding ones. Elliott pointed to the black telephone on the desk and said glumly, “We'll have to call Gregson.”
“Yeah,” Max said. “Before he calls us. You know he's waiting by the phone.”
“What time is it in Chicago?” Kristian asked. Sunlight showed through the shutters at the windows, casting bright bands across the gray tiled floor.
Max and Elliott glanced at their watches simultaneously. Max said, “Seven-thirty here. That makes it eleven-thirty there, right? He and Braunstein are probably sitting in the office right now.” Max reached for the telephone.
“Wait!” Kristian said.
Every eye turned to him. He flushed under their regard. “Listen, I want another chance. Let me go back.”
They stared at him, Max with the phone in his hand, Chiara with her eyebrows raised, Elliott rubbing the back of his neck. The equipment buzzed softly around them, and the monitor above Frederica's head clicked, a subtle noise Kristian hadn't noticed until this surprised silence.
“I mean it,” Kristian said. “There's something going on there and I want to . . . I need more time. Please.”
“Can't do it,” Max said. “Not without approval from one of the doctors.”
“I'm a doctor,” Chiara said.
“Not the right kind,” Max answered her. “Braunstein might not worry about time lag, but Gregson will. He'll be furious if we do an unauthorized transfer.”
“Don't tell them,” Kristian said.
Elliott said, “We could get fired! I need this job.”
Kristian looked at him, and found he was really seeing Elliott for the first time. He didn't know anything about these people, really. He knew far more about Clara Schumann than he did about anyone in this room. And Clara had been dead for more than a century.
Except that, in 1861, she was very much alive. He gave his head a shake. He must be getting really tired.
Max said, “Elliott, you're not going to lose your job. You know too much—they wouldn't dare.” He laughed, but Elliott only hung his head and looked dour.
“Let me talk to them, then,” Kristian said.
The telephone rang, somehow contriving to sound impatient.
“There they are!” Max said.
Elliott said, “Put it on speaker.”
“Please,” Kristian said. “Let me ask them.”
Max shrugged. “Straight to the horse's mouth,” he said, and held the telephone out.
Chiara scowled, trying to make sense of the idiom. Kristian seized the phone and pushed the answer button. “Kristian North here.”
There was a little surprised pause, and then a deep, rather harsh voice he recognized. “Mr. North? Good. Lillian Braunstein.”
“Good morning, Dr.—”
“Did you find her? Find anything?”
Kristian remembered Lillian Braunstein's peremptory manner from the interview process. It matched her blunt features, the severity of her clothes and hair. Braunstein cared for nothing but the transfer process and the foundation that administered it. Kristian had said once to Erika that he was pretty sure Braunstein meant to be the Marie Curie of her generation, only without her sensitivity. He said now, with a touch of asperity in his own voice, “I didn't see her.”
He heard Braunstein mutter something to someone else, probably Gregson, before she said, “Are you sure?”
If Kristian hadn't been exhausted, his mouth dry with sleeplessness, his hands shaky with the aftermath of excitement, he could have laughed. Instead, in a voice that cracked, he said, “I'm sure I need to go back. There's something happening. I don't know what it is yet.”
BOOK: The Brahms Deception
12.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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