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Authors: Linda Peterson

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BOOK: The Devil's Interval
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“Travis,” snapped Isabella.

“No comment,” I said, “he knows plenty.” Inwardly I squirmed, remembering how and when I felt most disloyal to Michael. It wasn't the sex with Quentin. It was afterward, when I'd lie on his bed, both of us still catching our breath after making love, and he'd put on a scratchy 78, and we'd listen to Richard Burton reading John Donne on love.
“But O alas, so long, so far/Our bodies why do we forbear?/They are ours, though they are not we/ We are the intelligences, they the sphere.”

“Tell me about Mrs. Plummer,” I said, wanting to shift the center of the conversation back to Travis, away from me.

“What do you want to know?”

“You met her because you were driving for her husband?”

“Right. And sometimes I drove the two of them, and sometimes I just drove Grace.”

“And you became involved?”

Travis shrugged. “She liked books, and I do, too. Even more than books, themselves, she liked words. When she heard a new word, she'd say it aloud as if it had some magic power or something. She loved to go to the movies, and Frederick, Mr. Plummer, was too busy. Plus, he wouldn't turn his cell phone off long enough to sit through a whole movie. So we started going to movies together.”

“And one thing led to another?”

The door swung open.

“Five minutes, folks,” said the officer.

Travis and I looked at each other. I could see him calculating, looking for the Hail Mary pass. “Hey,” he said, “do me one favor. Go talk to my mother before you decide if you're going to help or not. Ivory Gifford, she's got a jazz joint out on Clement Street, The Devil's Interval. That's all I ask.”

What the hell? Maybe the remarkable Ivory Gifford could teach me to change the oil in my car. Or mambo.

“Okay,” I agreed, now more curious than scared.

Isabella stood up. “Say thank you, Travis.”

He stood as well. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome,” I said. “And I'm glad you're enjoying the books.”

“I am,” he said. “Just finished
The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus
.”

“And do you identify with Faust—or with the Devil?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Sometimes neither, sometimes both,” he said. “But I do remember that Faust was redeemed by the love of a good woman.”

“Not his mother,” I said.

“Nope,” said Travis, and a wry smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “He was redeemed by a woman named Margaretta.”

He inclined his head in a mock bow. “It's fate that we met, Mrs. Fiori.”

“I'll go see your mother,” I said briskly, “that's all I can say for now.”

Interval No. 2 with Dr. Mephisto

T
ell me more about this photograph you saw of the murdered woman,” said Dr. Mephisto.

The room felt overheated. “Why?”

“Because there's something in it that's haunting you,” she said. “You've both brought it up a couple of times.”

I described it again. Briefly.

“Nice guy you're hanging out with,” said Michael.

“I'm not ‘hanging out,'” I said. “And don't we assume he's innocent until proven guilty?”

“A jury of his peers says he was proven guilty,” said Michael.

“And courts aren't ever wrong?”

Dr. Mephisto raised her hand. “The photograph?”

“Hey,” said Michael, “I'm glad to say what's bothering me. I think there's something very dark in that photo that's intriguing you. Maybe you want me to bind your hands and rough you up.”

“Michael!”

Dr. Mephisto turned to me. “What do you think about Michael's observation?”

“It's ridiculous. I mean, I'm not a prude, and sure, I wouldn't mind a little more adventure now and then.” The room grew very still, as if a breeze had just died down.

Dr. Mephisto cleared her throat. “More adventure? In your sex life, you mean?”

“Yes,” said Michael, “why don't you tell us what you mean?”

This was not going well. How had I allowed myself to be led down this path? And what was with the “tell
us?”
Michael was aligning himself with McQuist, and I was going to be odd girl out.

“There's nothing wrong with our love life,” I faltered. “It's just that sometimes it seems like one more job—like putting away groceries or folding laundry.”

I was talking to Dr. Mephisto, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Michael metamorphosing into a lawyer, coiled, strategic, ready to strike.

I was on to Dr. Mephisto's bag of tricks already, so I anticipated what was coming.

“You want me to say this to Michael, right?” I asked her.

“In a moment,” she said. “First, let's hear from Michael.”

I turned to him. He smiled without one ounce of warmth. “I think this is excellent news from you, Maggie,” he said. “I've had several almost irresistible impulses to tie you up. And to spank
you. But, I've been under the misapprehension you would find that behavior objectionable, even antifeminist. I'm happy, no, let me be more accurate,
delighted
to know you'll welcome that kind of attention.”

I wished for a mirror suddenly, so I could see what this looked like. Two almost-forty-year-old educated people, parents, who went home to a mortgaged, messy house with a soccer schedule and reminder cards from the kids' dentists magneted to the refrigerator. How and why did we get to this conversation?

“Okay, Maggie,” said Dr. Mephisto. “Your turn.”

“Michael, this is nuts,” I said. “I have absolutely no desire to turn our love life into something dark and dangerous. It's just…”

“Just what?”

“Just that it feels like one more ritual—way more fun than folding laundry or taking the kids out for pizza after soccer, but not much more surprising.”

“And you
like
the idea of surprises? Like the kind Grace Plummer encountered in that photograph?” he said bitterly.

“No. I mean, yes, I like the idea of surprises, but not that kind. I think the photo obsesses me because I can't figure out how something could go that wrong between two people who love each other. And now, even meeting Travis briefly, I believe he did care for Grace.
Ipso facto
, it can't have been him. And so,” I was warming to my topic, and thrilled to have steered away from the direction to which kinked-out, voyeuristic Dr. Mephisto had dragged the conversation, “when I look at that photo, I'm looking for some telltale something that will reassure me I'm right—that Travis didn't kill her. Someone else did.”

Michael was not so easily dissuaded. “Uh-huh, Ms. Ipso-Dipso, I get that part. But let's get back to the surprises you're looking for in our marriage.”

“Yes, let's,” said Dr. Mephisto. I shot her my best “Mom-and-dad-are-talking-and-this-doesn't-really-concern-you” look that occasionally worked with the kids. She had a hyperalert glint in her eyes that made me think my tactic wasn't working so well.

But, while I was figuring out another, more effective way to tell her to back off, something clicked into focus for me, the link between our marriage and my apparently unstoppable impulse to mess around with complex, outside-my-backyard problems. “I think,” I said, “there's always a surprise in how these things unravel. I mean, that's what happened with Quentin's murder. And as painful as all that was, I liked not knowing exactly what was coming next—and then figuring it out.”

Silence. “And so,” observed Michael, “would it be fair to say you think that looking for these surprises, these unpredictable situations, relieves me—and our marriage—from providing that kind of excitement?”

I inspected his face. It was carefully blank. “Kinda,” I said.

“So, you would argue that these adventures are good for our marriage?”

Well, not exactly, but Michael had led me down some path I couldn't see my way out of. “
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita…”
I said. “I am so lost right now.”

Quietly, Dr. Mephisto said, “In the middle of my life's journey, I found myself in the middle of a dark wood.”

More silence.

The Divine Comedy
,” she said. “Is that how you feel, Maggie? As if you're in a dark wood?”

I kept my eyes on Michael's face. “I didn't,” I said, “until today.”

“We have to end now,” said Dr. Mephisto.

CHAPTER 6

B
ars aren't usually hopeful places at 10 in the morning. Sunlight and silence bring wear and grime and smells into sharp, usually unpleasant focus. But a few bars shine when they're daylit and near-empty. The fancy places in upscale hotels, and well-loved neighborhood joints—they look clean and relatively bright, the bottles glitter in the mirror, the wood of the bar looks polished and loved and smells of lemon. Ivory Gifford's bar was of the hopeful variety, tucked in among storefront after storefront of affordable Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants and coffee places on Clement Street.

Maybe it was because she lived “above the store” that the place had such pride of ownership. “We scraped together enough for my mom to buy the building,” Travis had explained to me. “She lives in a flat above the club, so she's never far from work or home. She belongs to that building now, as much as it belongs to her.”

I was expecting someone like Mae West, all bosom and bluster, with too much eye makeup and high-heeled, gold lamé mules. Oh, and maybe wearing a tool belt. The woman who answered my knock looked like a retired Bob Fosse dancer: a black tunic over black leggings, great posture, slightly reminiscent of her son's, silver-blond hair knotted at her neck and a way of cocking one hip forward that promised she could make any move any guy could imagine and then some. She wore no detectable makeup and smelled like sandalwood soap. If this was sixtyish chick-barkeep, I
knew what I aspired to for my mature years.

“Maggie Fiori,” I said, extending my hand. She took my right hand in her left and squeezed it. “Come on in,” she said, “I've got coffee on.”

I followed her across the parquet floor and hopped up on the barstool she patted. She poured coffee for both of us, pulled the cream and sugar in front of me, and then draped herself onto the adjoining barstool.

She smiled. “Travis says I need to talk you into helping out. How much talking do I have to do?”

No wasted time. I took a sip of coffee to buy a few minutes, “Why do you favor your right hand?”

She shrugged. “I had a stroke shortly after Trav was arrested. My right side hasn't completely recovered, including my hand. That's a disaster for a piano player. I'm still resting it as much as I can.”

I gestured at the ebony grand at the edge of the bandstand.

“You play here?”

“I used to. So did Travis.” She picked up her coffee mug. “We even did four-hand stuff when he'd drop by.”

“So you're both pianists,” I said. “I didn't know that.”

“Pianists are the people who work Davies Symphony Hall,” she said. “We think of ourselves as piano players.” She waved at the piano, still with her left hand.

“Hence my name.”

“Ivory?”

“Right. It's really Eugenie, but I've been Ivory since I was old enough to get on a piano bench by myself.”

“Eugenie? Like the empress?”

She laughed. “Travis used to call me Mom, the Empress of the Keyboard.”

With Travis's name in the air again, we both fell silent.

“All right,” she said, after a moment. “Why don't you tell me what I need to say to you, so you'll help us out.” She took a deep breath, “Things are getting a little desperate.”

“Why don't you tell me about Travis and why you're so sure he's innocent?” I countered.

She regarded me carefully. “Why are you so sure I think he's innocent?”

“Because you're his mother,” I said. “Aren't mothers always sure?”

She gave me a grin. Now that I knew about the stroke, I saw that the crookedness of her smile wasn't for effect; it was residual damage.

“You're a mother, too?” she asked, clearly not needing an answer. “You're right, I am sure he didn't do it. But frankly, the stroke did some memory damage, so I'm lousy on the events right around the time of the…murder.”

“Why don't you just talk to me about Travis?”

“This place is named after him,” she said.

“The Devil's Interval?”

She nodded. “Do you know anything about music?”

“I'm a piano player myself,” I said.

“Well, then this is easy,” she said. She slipped off the barstool, and went to the piano. With her left hand, she played two notes, “Hear that interval?”

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