Sound of the Trumpetby Bill Moody
On a dark night in Pennsylvania, a jazz legend met his death. But now, in the heat and light of Las Vegas, the sound of Clifford Brown's soaring trumpet is coming back to life. Because a man named Evan Horne, who knows all about jazz and pain, is unraveling a puzzle that reaches back forty years to Brown's last hoursand that
The sound and the fury...
On a dark night in Pennsylvania, a jazz legend met his death. But now, in the heat and light of Las Vegas, the sound of Clifford Brown's soaring trumpet is coming back to life. Because a man named Evan Horne, who knows all about jazz and pain, is unraveling a puzzle that reaches back forty years to Brown's last hoursand that has already gotten one person killed.
Horne was called to Las Vegas to authenticate some recordings purported to be the lost tapes of Clifford Brown. But when a murder interrupts his listening session, Horne becomes the key player in a dangerous duet. Carrying a worn old trumpet that may have belonged to Clifford Brown himself, Horne is pursuing the truth behind an audiotape that may be worth a fortune, may be a hoax, and may be just one haunting melody in a killer's murderous obsession. . . .
There's never much mystery about who killed Perkins, but the tale of the tape gives Evan an excuse for some great duets with aging jazzmen with long memories, and a supporting role in the strangest confession ever recorded.
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I wake up Sunday morning, just before the phone rings, feeling the effects of too much Scotch and not enough sleep. I mumble what I know must be an incoherent hello into the phone.
"Evan? I wake you up?"
"Ace? No, I just haven't had my coffee yet."
"Sorry. Listen, get a shower and some coffee, and I'll call you back in about a half hour."
"We'll talk then. I've got a job for you."
I pause and gaze out the window that affords me a sliver of a view of the Venice boardwalk, already filling up with early-morning joggers and walkers even though the sky is slate gray, the air cool.
"Ace, I'm still not playing, you know."
"It's not a gig, but it's something you'll be interested in. Thirty minutes." The phone goes dead before I can protest further.
I hang up the phone and drag myself to the bathroom and stand under the shower for ten minutes wondering what Ace has in store for me.
Dr. Charles "Ace" Buffington is my good friend at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The last time he called, it was for a gig. Cocktail piano at a shopping mall and research into the death of saxophonist Wardell Gray. It turned out to be much more than research in a lot of ways, but it had its upside. I also met Natalie Beamer, a policewoman who was now pursuing the law instead of criminals.
I wrap myself in a heavy terry cloth robe and get some coffee going while I scan the Los Angeles Times and survey the chaos of my apartment. I'm about half packed up and know I'm going to miss living in Venice. Progress has made its way to this corner of L.A., and developers have bought up the remaining houses on my block fora new set of condos. The demolition ball is swinging toward me. Time to move on.
I'm on my second cup of coffee when Ace calls back. "Evan? Better now?"
"Much. What's up? How's the book going?" My help with the Wardell Gray project had turned into a book for Ace, one that even his own department could not ignore.
"Great. You are now talking to a full professor."
"Congratulations, Ace. Stick it to them."
"Oh, don't worry. I plan to. How are things with you?"
"Let's cut to it, Ace. You don't call me on Sunday morning without something in mind. If it has anything to do with playing piano, forget it. If it has anything to do with investigating, really forget it."
Ace laughs now, but my run-ins with Anthony Gallio were not funny then for either of us. I managed to uncover a lot about Wardell Gray's death, and a lot more about Las Vegas mob types.
"No, nothing like that. This one is easy. What do you know about Clifford Brown?"
"One of the all-time great trumpet players in jazz. He was killed in a car crash in the fifties. Great loss to jazz, trumpet players still talk about him. End of story."
"Not quite. What would you say if some previously unknown recordings of Mr. Brown had been discovered?"
"I'd say they would be very valuable to certain people. Record companies, for one. They'd probably be released on CD to the great joy of all concerned, especially a number of trumpet players."
"Exactly," Ace says.
I take a couple of sips of coffee and light a cigarette, a foul-tasting menthol that I hope will encourage me to quit. Ace is a record collector and on the fringe of the wild-eyed serious fiends who, according to Ace, will do anything to secure a rare find. But as far as I know, there are no undiscovered recordings of Clifford Brown. That would be a big story.
"You've found something?"
"Maybe," Ace says. "At least, I know someone who thinks they have, and that's the job. Piece of cake for you."
"That's what you said about researching Wardell Gray."
"This is different. Tragic, yes, but there was nothing suspicious about Brownie's car accident. I've got a collector friend, really serious one, who thinks he may have come into some Clifford Brown. These guys are really secretive though, spooky really. Anyway, he wants some preliminary confirmation that this tape might actually be Clifford Brown."
"As I said, he's really secretive. He doesn't trust hardly anyone when it comes to rare recordings, but he trusts me enough to contact you."
"To do what?"
"Come to Las Vegas, listen to the tape, and tell him if you think it's really Clifford Brown. All expenses paid, and a nice fee for your trouble. You can stay with me for a few days. I'm between semesters, so we can hang out a little."
"Wouldn't it be better to have a trumpet player listen to the tape? I play, or did play, piano."
"Maybe, but I don't know any trumpet players I can tell this guy I trust. You can at least tell enough to satisfy him he may be on to something."
I should know better, but I'm intrigued. Hadn't someone found some old John Coltrane tapes in a closet at Atlantic Records? A visit with Ace would be nice. Listen to a tape and get paid for it. Why not? "When is this supposed to happen?"
"If you're free, the sooner the better. This guy wants to move on this right away. Can I tell him yes?"
"Oh, I'm free." Natalie has been putting in ten-hour days at Loyola Law School, wrestling with contracts, torts, and real property. Except for weekends, I hardly see her.
"Great," Ace says. "I'll FedEx a ticket."
"Hang on, I might drive up. I've got a new car I'd like to try out on the road."
"Suit yourself. We'll reimburse you when you get here and settle on a fee. He'll go for at least five-hundred dollars."
"Yeah, this guy and I are kind of--partners."
"Are you telling me everything?" I spend the rest of the morning packing up more boxes, discarding some things, mulling over whether to keep this or that, realizing finally with some surprise that my life can be contained in a few boxes and a couple of suitcases. I have two more weeks to go on the lease before the bulldozers move in, and I've been looking around for a new place. Nothing so far has appealed. After Friday's doctor visit, I'm not even sure I want to stay in Los Angeles.
Around noon I change into some presentable clothes--jeans, sweater, and my favorite cord jacket--and head for my lunch date with Carol Mann, my erstwhile therapist. The accident that maimed my hand led to psychological counseling with Carol's group of similarly damaged musicians. We officially stopped the sessions long ago, but Carol and I had become friends and stayed in touch. Occasionally, like today, we manage lunch or dinner.
My new car isn't really new except to me. When my Mazda was stolen and gutted--the cops think by a chop-shop operation--I endured some sticker shock looking for a new one. When one of Cindy Fuller's stewardess friends got married and moved to Boston, I was offered her babied and well-cared-for 1989 Chevy Camaro. It was too good to pass up, saving me the hassle of shopping and haggling with a dealer. I wouldn't have chosen a Camaro, but now that I'm used to it, it fits me well, and it's fun to drive.
I nose it out of the carport behind the apartments and head up Venice Boulevard for the 405 Freeway. Traffic is light, and the throaty rumble of the Camaro's engine is comforting as I roll north to Brentwood, taking the Sunset exit. Carol has chosen a nouveau, fifties-style diner for our nontherapy-therapy lunch. I surrender my car to the valet parking attendant, a blond kid in white shirt and red bow tie with admiring eyes for the Camaro.
"Don't get too excited," I say, getting out of the car.
Inside, I find Carol already there. She waves from her table, and I see she's purposely avoided the patio smoking section even though there is one, a rare thing these days in southern California. Everyone wants me to quit.
"Sorry I'm late," I say, taking a chair opposite her and glancing around the room. "Very L.A."
"You're not. I'm early," Carol says. "And be nice, I'm buying." She's dressed nearly as casually as I am in jeans, turtleneck sweater, and a denim shirt open at the collar. We hardly glance at the menu before a waiter slides into my line of vision. He's tall, thin, probably a UCLA student.
"Hi, I'm Steve, and I'll be your server today. Can I get you one of our appetizers, some sauteed mushrooms perhaps, a mini pizza?" He smiles at us both expectantly.
"Well, Steve, I'm Evan your customer, and I don't know what I want yet, since I haven't looked at the menu. A Bloody Mary would be nice if you can manage that. Carol?"
"Yeah, that would be fine," Carol says, blushing slightly. Steve gives me a glance and withdraws.
"My, aren't we cranky today."
I shrug. "I just get a little tired of the hustle these days. Waiters don't know you, but they want to establish a relationship before you sit down."
"I take it your visit with Dr. Martin didn't go as well as you hoped."
I reach for cigarettes on reflex, then remember we're in nonsmoking. "I can't seem to win, Carol. Physically, Martin says I check out fine. The tendons and nerves have healed and responded well to the therapy--too well."
"What do you mean?"
"Martin says it's called repetitive motion stress disorder. This is all new stuff apparently, still a lot of research being done, but I guess I qualify as a textbook case. It seems I overcompensated, practiced too much, and I've tired the muscles. A common mistake is to play through the pain. That's what I did, tried to come back too soon, and I sure felt the pain on that Las Vegas gig."
"So what's his advice?"
If it's possible to smile ironically, I try. "A period of relative rest, which for me means staying off the piano. Once the pain subsides, I can start practicing again gradually."
Carol nods and sighs for me. "Now that you mention it, there's a doctor in Monterey doing research on this. I think I remember reading something about it." She reaches across the table and touches my wrist. "I'm sorry, Evan, I really am."
I try a smile again. "Don't be, I guess--"
"All right, here we are." Steve, our friendly waiter, is back, balancing two Bloody Marys on a silver tray. He sets them on the table, rearranges the vase of fake flowers and the salt and pepper shaker, and begins a well-rehearsed routine about the day's specials. "We have a very nice poached salmon and--"
"Tell you what, Steve, how about a club sandwich with fries, and we'll skip the specials, okay?"
"But the lady--"
"That's fine," Carol says, arching her eyebrows at me. "I'll have the shrimp salad."
"Excellent choice," Steve says.
"And how is that, Steve?"
"I just mean--"
"I'm just kidding, Steve."
"No, you're not." Steve departs in a huff.
"Wow," Carol says. "What is that all about?"
I ignore Carol's question and take up where I left off. "As I was saying, I guess maybe I'm not supposed to play piano for a while, maybe not in this lifetime."
"So what are you doing?"
I take a long pull of the Bloody Mary. "Moving, for one thing, and it looks like I'm going up to Las Vegas for a few days to listen to some tapes."
"Tapes of what?"
"We still have doctor-client privilege working here, right?"
"Of course, if you want."
"It's probably not that big a deal, but someone thinks they've found some recordings of Clifford Brown, the trumpet player." I fill Carol in on Brownie and Ace's offer, barely finishing before Steve warily approaches the table with our food. Not a peep out of him as he sets it down. He addresses Carol only.
"Can I get you anything else?" Carol shakes her head no. Steve withdraws without looking at me.
"That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"Watch, he'll be back in record time." As it turns out, it's less than two minutes.
"And how are we doing here? Everything okay?"
"Well, Steve, I don't know, since I've hardly had time to even taste this sandwich."
Steve mumbles something and stalks away.
"Wait'll we have coffee. I'm willing to bet Steve was trained in the school that says never let the level of coffee go a half-inch below the rim before offering refills."
"We'll be lucky if he comes back," Carol says. "I'm taking you to Burger King next time." Natalie is waiting on the front steps when I return. She's in old sweats and running shoes, her hair tied back in a ponytail. "Nice lunch?" she asks. Her eyes are hidden behind sunglasses.
"Yeah, okay." I sit down next to her. "What are you doing here? Don't you have a class or something?" The winter sun has finally broken through, but there's a chill in the air.
She takes off her glasses and looks at me. "I got your message. You didn't think I'd let you go to Las Vegas without saying good-bye did you?" The smile in her eyes is full of mischief.
"It's only for a few days, no big thing."
She nods. "I know, it's just--I've been walking on the beach, thinking. You're going to miss this place, aren't you?"
Down near the boardwalk, I can see the late-afternoon skaters and joggers. Always something going on. "I suppose. What were you thinking about?"
"That we're not seeing enough of each other."
I start to speak, but she cuts me off. "I know, it's me, law school, I'm always trying to catch up." She takes my hand in hers, meets my eyes with a level gaze. "Move in with me."
"No, just like that."
I see the hurt in her eyes. "No, not just like that, but I'm not ready to jump into a situation forced upon us because I have to move. You're busy with classes, I'd just be a distraction, and I don't want that."
"Maybe you need a distraction."
"That's why I'm going to Las Vegas."
Natalie sighs and shakes her head. She knows me well enough not to push this discussion any further. "Okay," she says, "but while you're hanging out in Vegas with Ace, think about it, okay?"
"Okay, I'll think about it. How much time have you got?"
The mischief returns in her smile. "I don't have a class until eight."
"No, silly, in the morning."
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