Read an Excerpt
"Put your lips together like this," she said. But my lips would never go together like that and we both knew it. Hers were a youthful pink. Pouty. The oversized, sensual lips of a French woman in her early twenties. Placed tightly togetheras they were nowthey resembled a budding red rose. When parted, they were the exploding morning flower, hungry for the heat of the sun.
My passport lay open on the bed. It showed a man approaching forty with sandy hair and strong features. A head shot, it didn't show my six foot four inches, or my two hundred and ten pounds; and in the cheap photo, my eyes looked more blue than the gray green they actually were. Nowhere did it mention that I was a self-employed, former professional musician who spent his time chasing down recording artists owed back royalties typically "mistakenly" misplaced by creative corporate accounts. On the plane over to Italy I had listed my visit as tourism, but this was in fact a small white lie. I was in Paris on business, and business wasn't looking so good.
Because of an acute lack of space in my Parisian hotel roomroom 31, Hotel de Grande Écolemy tutor, Sylvie, had taken to the bed where she now sat cross-legged, her books and papers chaotically spread before her, her cotton skirt tossed over her ankles, her lips bunched tightly and pointing at me as if inviting a kiss. My mind was not fully on the French language as it should have been.
"It has been twenty years since I've done this," I reminded her. It felt like about that long since my last kiss as well.
"You can do it," she encouraged in her delightful French-scented English. "Think of all the money you are paying me."
That encouraged another try with my lips. Later, when I reviewed our conversation in my head, I realized how the content could have been so easily misunderstood, especially when muffled by a wall and overheard by the hotel guest occupying the room next door. It seems this hotel guest was out on her room's half-balcony during this brief exchange in my tutorial. Believing Sylvie and I were discussing sexual acts for hire, she had promptly complained to management. So the next morning there I was, with my horrible French, trying to explain myself and to defend Sylvie's honor and my own. I apparently did a rather poor job of it: I was denied any more female "guests" in my room by the seventy-some-year-old matron who owned the hotel. It was this family atmosphere I liked so much about the hotel, so I made no attempt to change her mind. My French was so limited at the time, it would have done no good anyway.
I deserved as much for having French lessons at eleven on a Saturday night, but with my days consumed by looking for maestro Stephan Shultz and my attention preoccupied by the distractions of a city I truly adored, there remained few hours for language tutorials. Sylvie's employer, a French language agency, had left the working out of details to tutor and student, and so now, given the objections of my hotelier, either other arrangements would have to be made or I would need to smuggle Sylvie up the fire stairs.
At nine-thirty that Sunday morning, I took a run along the tow path of the Seine under a penetrating September sun. Like wings, or insect legs, Notre Dame's flying buttresses caught and carved this light into a matrix of shadows. Sight of the cathedral stole my breath away, despite its familiarity. An imposing structure, stained by centuries of city smog, witness to a dozen wars and God-only-knows how many millions of pilgrims, it loomed ominously, majestically, triumphantly. Though by nature I was not as religious as spiritual, I nonetheless felt a moment of communion with God. In this, of all places.
Construction on the tow path forced me up stone stairs climbed by a thousand sailors, a thousand times that many lovers, by writers and painters too numerous to name, film makers, politicians and ladies of the night. A sense of that which had gone beforeof historyoozed out of every crack in every stone, filled the branches of every tree that lined the boulevards, occupied a chair at every cafe.
Parisians carried baguettes like New Yorkers carried briefcases, only without the handle: secured beneath an elbow outstretched like a lance, gripped like a tennis racquet, or brandished like a cane.
I marveled at the tempo of this city, which, on God's day, seemed more like a sleepy village than one of the world's premiere urban centers.
My appointment that Sunday noon with a former colleague of Stephan Shultz, one Adrian Pascale, professor of music at the university, took place in his cramped, viewless apartment, a walk-up with just enough space in the living room for a Yamaha grand piano, a four-track tape recorder and a CD collection that would have made even my dear friend Lyel envious. Pascale, a surprisingly young-looking man, had dark expressive eyebrows, long hair pulled back in a pony tail, and powerful, inquisitive green eyes. I already knew from having talked with him on the phone that he spoke exceptional English, which came as a great relief. I was scheduled to visit Sylvie at her place at ten that eveningmy French was barely beyond ordering bread and butter. Without his English, I would have been lost.
While he brewed me a cup of espresso I looked through his library of CDs and we discussed at a distance several rerecordings of which I was unaware. The rest of the room's décor amounted to a terra cotta urn containing a dusty bouquet of dried flowers, a mirror alongside the piano bencheither to frame the narcissistic or to check and correct postureand a framed page of a hand-scribed musical score that bore his signature as well as an embossed star with the number one in its center.
"It was a competition I won," he said, delivering the demitasse. "It's how all this got started," he continued, taking a seat on the piano bench and offering me the room's only chair. Pupil and teacher. I was immediately uncomfortable, both because they still haven't made a chair for six-foot-four and because I didn't want him too complacent about who was running things. When you need answers from people, it's best to have them out of their element.
"Competition?" I inquired politely, not really interested.
"I was sixteen at the time. The assignment, it was to fill the gap in a Bach sonata. We were given the page three and the page five. We were to compose the page four, connecting these two. I won. This page, it won," he said pointing. "At the time, I have the visions of being the next Mozart. Instead," he said sweeping his arm, but his face revealing disappointment, "a somewhat obscure chair in musical history at the university." In the blink of an eye, he checked himself in the mirror. "And you, Mr. Klick. You are a liar, which is why it is I have invited you here to my home. I am fascinated by liars. As an academic, I rub elbows with them daily."
I sipped the bitter coffee, drank in his bitter words, and wondered if the heat I felt in my cheeks could be seen on my face.
He informed me, "The media calls him Steven Shultz, just as you did over the phone when we spoke. However, if you know the manand you do not, despite your claim to the contrarythen you know it is actually Ste-ph-an." He raised his finger at me, as teachers tend to do. Then he lit a non-filter Gauloise without offering me one. I took that as a compliment. "Curiosity is a funny thing. I was immediately curious about you."
"My business with Mr. Shultz is confidential," I said.
"You're working for his wife," he stated flatly. I had no idea what he was talking about. I tried not to show it.
He sucked on the cigarette, collapsing his cheeks. When he next spoke, gray exhaust chased his words. "She should relax. These things have a way of blowing over." I forced a smile. Shultz was owed a considerable sum of money in back royalty payments withheld from him by a former recording company. My interest and that of my partner, Bruce Warren, was in the finder's fee for putting him in touch with this money.
Adrian Pascale flirted with the mirror again and gassed himself up with a chest full of smoke.
"Last week I was in Italy," I explained dryly, mention of the wife clicking into place. "The maestro was recently seen at a cocktail party outside of Todi. An area called Beverly Hills after Beverly Pepper, the artist, who has installed a good many close friends in the area. I was left with the understanding that the maestro was currently visiting here in Paris. Moi aussi!" I attempted. "Me too."
He asked incredulously, "You are suggesting the wife did not send you?"
"Perhaps you've read about a certain Japanese company which is in the process of acquiring a major Hollywood studio, complete with that company's recording division? An audit of the recording side of things revealed an accounting `error' in Mr. Shultz's favor. My partner and I make our living matching people like Mr. Shultz with lost property and misappropriated funds, including royalty money."
His expression changing, he said, "I think I read about you." He killed the cigarette with a twist.
"That would have been my partner, Bruce Warren. He's the attorney side of the team." I forced another smile. "He gets all the press."
"So you are not working for the wife."
"I thought we had already established that." I said hastily, "I heard about the fireworks between Shultz and the cello player. It was suggested that he followed her here. Is that where the wife comes in?" As the question passed my lips it seemed rhetorical.
A knock on the door interrupted any possibility of a reply. He rose and answered the door. What followed was a volley of expletives, in French, as four menmy size or betterbarged into the apartment and headed straight for the piano.
Beside himself Adrian Pascale danced around the room wildly, hollering at them in French as they disassembled the Yamaha grand. From the hall, one of them grabbed a dolly, a quilted pad, and some straps. What little of the conversation I understood had to do with Adrian Pascale's astonishment that they would do this on a Sunday. He was appalled that they had tricked him in this way. "Dimanche?" he kept shouting, moving from one corner of the tiny room to the other, but not interfering with their work.
The repo boys paid him no mind. They were numb to such complaints. In a matter of a very few minutes the piano, and its legs, had been wrapped, placed onto a dolly, and moved out to the landing. Adrian Pascale attempted to shut the door in disgust when one of them returned for the bench. Pascale finally slammed the door shut.
I stood and offered Adrian his only chair. He glared at me and lit another cigarette. "On a Sunday!" he exclaimed in French. "Two months is all I owe. It's nothing! But now, how am I supposed to tutor? My God, I have a student tomorrow night! They came on a Sunday!" he added hysterically.
Bruce and I were not above paying for informationwhen needed. I considered cutting Mr. Pascale a deal, but I wasn't sure how much he could help, and I feared his hysterics and present concerns would force him into inventing information for me, solely to save his piano. Again I offered him the chair. This time he accepted.
"What is the cellist's name?" I asked, towering over him as he fueled the ember of his cigarette with a disgusting inhale.
He seemed to have forgotten about me.
"Stephan Shultz's woman friend," I reminded.
"Woman? She's not much more than a girl, that one."
"Her name," I repeated.
"She's here in Paris?"
Numbed by his loss, he mumbled, "Julia is putting her up at her flat. Julia's number is in ... hand me that small directory, there ... yes." It was a photocopy of a listing of the music department students.
A minute later I crossed the hole in the room previously occupied by the piano, and reached the door. I had lost him for the time being.
"Who was to expect such trouble on a Sunday?" he asked.
I left him still sitting in that chair, struggling with his cigarette pack, tearing it, giving up on it, and tossing it across the room. He was staring at himself in the mirror. In another minute or two, he would be crying.