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Authors: Linda Peterson

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BOOK: The Devil's Interval
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“A fifth,” I said.

“Right. Now listen while I diminish the interval a half step.” She played two more notes. They sounded unpleasing, a little discordant.

“A tritone,” I said.

“Right,” said Ivory, “a diminished fifth or augmented fourth. It's called The Devil's Interval. It was actually outlawed in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries because the monks couldn't sing the damn notes. And they thought if they tried, they'd go mad.”

“What's that got to do with Travis?” I asked.

She played a jazzy chord progression that began and ended with the restless-sounding interval. “When Travis improvised, he always ended on the Devil's Interval. It's a very unsettling sound,
and it became his signature.”

She played a little more, and ended again on the diminished fifth. It sounded unresolved and unhappy.

“When Travis came out of the military, he used most of his saved-up pay to help me open this place. The idea was that I'd have a home base, we'd both play here from time to time, and I wouldn't be out looking for gigs until I was far beyond the age for social security.”

“But Travis was working for the limousine company.”

“We couldn't take enough out of The Devil's Interval to support us both in the beginning. So, Travis had his military pension, plus the limousine work, plus…”

“Plus,” I said, “he had some peace of mind knowing his mom was taken care of.”

“Right,” she said. “That was the plan. And a damn fine one it used to be.”

She closed the lid on the piano keys.

“What else can I tell you? Isabella and Travis both say you could help if you wanted to.”

“You know I'm not an investigator,” I reminded her.

“I know,” she said, “but you've got access to the world that Grace Plummer lived in. Through your magazine.”

I protested, “It's not ‘my magazine.' I'm the editor, and it's still a fairly new job for me. It's a grand title, but mostly what I do is sit in meetings and shepherd the staff into staying on schedule and budget. I'm making this up as I go along.”

Ivory didn't say anything. I tried to imagine how it would feel to have a son on Death Row. I could imagine someone's son, just not one of mine. I felt myself take three careful steps away from the idea. “Tell me some more about Travis,” I said, buying time.

“What do you want to know?”

“Tell me about his relationships with women,” I replied. “What about this Limousine Lothario business?”

She got up from the piano bench and walked around the bar. She shook out a towel, and picked up a glass from the rack to dry.
“Travis and women. I'll tell you, from the time that boy was ten years old, he had a way with the ladies. He'd flirt with any girl, any age, any place. When he was in junior high school, he could ditch school and never get caught, because the old biddies in the attendance office would cover for him. By the time he was in high school, he knew enough to try to get all his classes with female teachers, because he could get away with murder.”

The word hung in the air.

“I get your drift,” I said.

Ivory picked up another glass. “I know a lot of men flirt,” she says. “But Travis has some kind of gift.”

“Where'd he get it?” I asked. “From his dad?”

“Who can remember? Mr. Wonderful hightailed it out of town when Travis was three. We haven't heard from him since. We stayed here partly because I couldn't go back to my family on Cape Cod. I'd burned almost all those bridges. And partly because I wanted Trav's father to be able to find him, if he ever came looking. But he never did.”

“So, just the two of you, all these years?”

“Just the two of us,” said Ivory. “Not that there aren't occasional gentlemen callers. I haven't led the life of a nun. But there wasn't anybody permanent.” She hesitated, “Still isn't, at least not really. So Travis and I had a pretty tight relationship. And frankly, lots of guys were chased away by how tight the two of us are. Men don't like playing second fiddle.”

Now or never, I thought. “So, you two talked a lot? Confided in each other?”

“You mean, did I know about Mrs. Plummer?”

I nodded. Ivory shrugged, “I didn't know much about her. I did notice that Travis seemed to look forward to his assignments driving for her.”

“Did you ever meet her?”

“No. Travis would bring his lady friends to the bar occasionally, but he was private when he was seeing someone he shouldn't be seeing—like a married woman.”

“And there were others?”

“That's what I read in the papers,” said Ivory matter-of-factly. “The Limousine Lothario.”

“What's your theory about that? About Travis getting involved with all those married women?”

“My theory? You fish where the fish are. He met plenty of bored and neglected wives. It's not as if he grew up with a lot of evidence that marriage vows were all that sacred. Or permanent.”

“And he was…irresistible?”

Ivory smiled. “You have a son?”

I nodded, “Two.”

“Then you know how I'd answer that. All mothers think their boys are irresistible. But, what I think isn't that important, is it? It's what all those women thought.”

I flashed on Travis's careful reading of my discarded poetry book.

“He pays a rare kind of attention to women,” I observed.

Ivory's mobile face went very still. “Of course,” she said, “how could I forget? You've met Travis.”

More silence.

“You want to know what I think?” I prodded.

“I guess I do.”

For an instant, I saw Travis's hand again, darkened with the black-inked lines of poetry, opening in front of me. “It was the oddest thing,” I said. “He made me think about Rudolf Nureyev.”

Ivory smiled. “He moves like a dancer,” she said. “Elegant, very controlled.”

We sat without speaking for a long moment. “It's not the best of circumstances, meeting someone at San Quentin,” I temporized.

“Just talk to me,” said Ivory. “I don't have much to lose at this point.”

“Okay,” I said. “He's charming, all right. He's smart, and frankly, that charm makes him a little scary. But what got me here was the way he talked about you.”

“We'll need more than that,” Ivory said flatly. “Death Row is
full of murderers who love their mothers.”

“I know,” I said. “But there was something very unsentimental, respectful about the way he talks about you. Which makes all this…”

“What?”

“I'm sorry to ask you about this,” I began.

Ivory put down the towel and the glass and leaned on the bar. “Don't apologize. Ask anything you want. I don't give one flying fuck. All I care about right now is getting help for Travis, however I can.”

“Okay, what about the S&M business with Mrs. Plummer?”

“We were close,” said Ivory, “but I'm his mother. It's not as if he ever talked about that stuff with me. But, I do know there was a dark side to Travis, and I can't say it surprises me.”

“Doesn't it bother you?”

“Look, I think what people do with each other sexually is their business. I've got my own little quirks and “she broke off, and looked me up and down. “I bet you've got a couple yourself.”

I felt my face go warm, remembering the last session with Dr. Mephisto.

She held up her hand. “I'm not interested in yours and you're not interested in mine. We're only interested in Travis's tastes because one of his women ended up dead.”

“You're something else,” I said.

“No, I'm not,” she shot back. “I've got a son on Death Row. You can't imagine how that enables you to cut through the nicey-nice stuff and get right down to it.” She sighed. “I didn't know much about Mrs. Plummer, and I didn't know about the rough sex. But I know Travis, I know him down to my bones. He likes to have fun, he likes to take things as far as they can go. But I read the description of how they found that woman. And I cannot believe Travis would do something like that to anyone.”

Neither of us spoke. I looked down at the bar, and Ivory's good hand, the one she was leaning on, was trembling. Suddenly, the door behind the bar flew open, and a burly guy pushing a hand
truck loaded with cases of beer maneuvered it to Ivory's side and put his arm around her. She stiffened, then leaned into him. With his free hand, he tore off the black and orange Giants cap he was wearing and dropped it on the bar.

“Hi, babe,” he said. “This was at the back door, thought I'd move it in for you.” He looked at me. “Did I bust up something?”

Ivory shook her head. “No, just talking about Travis's appeal. Maggie Fiori, meet Augustus Reeves III, also known as Uncle Gus.” Reeves, who had a shaved head under that cap and a nose that looked as if it had been broken and not repaired exactly the way it should have been, stuck out his hand. We shook.

“You another lawyer?” he asked. “That sounds expensive.”

“Hardly,” I said. “I work for a magazine.”

“Oh, yeah? Anything I'd ever heard of?
Biker Mama
, say?” He barked a laugh, and hugged Ivory close to him again.

She put her hand on his impressive chest, and gently pushed him away.

“Ever the joker, Uncle Gus,” she said.

“Hey,” I said lightly, “I wouldn't mind an assignment for
Biker Mama
once in a while. But they never call.”

Uncle Gus narrowed his eyes, as if he couldn't quite figure out if I was joking. That was okay; I couldn't figure him out either. He seemed too close to Ivory's age to be her uncle.

“You work here, Gus?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he said. “I'm a fan of Ivory's, so I try to be useful from time to time. Keep a hand truck in my van, just to help my favorite proprietrix move things around. So, what'd I interrupt? You two seemed pretty intense.”

Ivory gave me a quick, sideways glance. “Travis's lawyer thought Maggie might be able to help. Find some things out. Turn over a few of those high-society rocks the cops couldn't get to. I was just making my last-ditch mother-to-mother appeal to her.”

“So, what's the verdict?” asked Gus. He seemed suddenly serious, done joking around.

Ivory came around the bar and sat down next to me again.
“Are you in or are you out?”

I looked at Ivory and I saw she'd pulled rank on me. No longer just a piano player, a bar-owner, a woman who'd been disappointed in love. She was a mother. And she was in the kind of trouble I couldn't even begin to imagine. Isabella was sure he was innocent—and for no good reason on earth, I believed her. If one of my boys…I stopped that train of thought cold in its tracks by opening my mouth.

“I'm in.”

CHAPTER 7

T
uesday mornings were all-hands editorial meetings at
Small Town
. Like most monthly magazines, we worked on three issues at once. We had one in final production, one in development—writing and layout—and one in planning.

Hoyt Lee, the managing editor we'd hired to take Glen's place, ran the meeting. A graduate of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), he sounded as if he'd been raised on a gentleman's diet of fast horses, good bourbon, and lazy afternoons on a veranda. He never lost his temper or his fine manners, and was unfailingly polite to everyone from me (who regularly offended him whenever I let a swear word slip) to our youngest, greenest interns. The truth of the matter was that he was a first-generation college graduate, son of hardscrabble soybean farmers, but he'd learned how to behave like a gentleman and found it was better armor and ammunition than the money and land his more privileged, nitwit fraternity brothers brought to the party.

It took nearly a year before he'd call me “Maggie,” and he still insisted on calling my assistant, Gertie, “Miz Davis,” out of deference to her age.

“For heaven's sake, Maggie,” she complained, “he makes me feel like someone's mother.”

“You are someone's mother,” I pointed out. “You've got those two handsome, grownup sons. Indulge Hoyt,” I added. “He needs to think somebody around here is a lady.”

Despite his courtly manner, Hoyt ran a tight meeting. We worked off agendas and flow charts, checking in on last-minute production issues for the current issue, progress and snags on the issue under development, identified opportunities for the online content, and then subjected the current issue's plans to rigorous scrutiny.

“Remember our readers,” Hoyt always admonished. “Will they find this interesting?” So, when we came to the future issue-planning chart, Hoyt gave me a chance to pitch a few angles on the Limousine Lothario story.

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