Introduction by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie
“A top-flight detective story.”—The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
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On that raw March night chilling drafts swirled treacherously around the corners backstage at Carnegie Hall—the icy puffs and currents which on bygone nights had sent a perspiring Paderewski or Heifetz or Chaliapin in headlong flight to the dressing room and had kept Melba’s or Sembrich’s maid vigilantly on guard at the door to the stage, with an ermine wrap ready for the diva’s hot bare damp shoulders. That, of course, was at the intermission or the end; it was now only eight-fifteen and nothing had happened yet on the great bare stage to make a strong man perspire. Any one who thinks a violin virtuoso is not a strong man should try the “Devil’s Trill” with muscles of anything less than steel.
It must be admitted, however, that Jan Tusar, who in a quarter of an hour was supposed to walk on the stage with nothing but a fiddle and a bow and prove his right to stand where Ysaye and Kreisler had stood, did not at that moment look strong. He had just emerged from the dressing room and stood there on the threshold, with one hand gripping the rim of the door and the other the neck of his violin just above the pegs. Though he was six feet tall, he looked like a frightened boy, with his set face and widened eyes, and his lower lip pulled in by his teeth. Of a dozen or more people scattered around, all were looking at him except a man in fireman’s uniform standing unobtrusively by a far wall, who had doubtless learned that an artist, during that terrible last half hour, is as unpredictable as a racehorse at the barrier, and nothing can be done about it. Among the others, at their various locations and distances, there was a general movement as if they would approach, but it was immediately restrained except in the case of a woman, not young, who with long bony fingers was keeping a sable wrap closed at her throat.
But a man moved swiftly to intercept her, and she gave it up with a shrug after an acid glance at the broad back which had interposed itself between her and the frightened boy.
Jan Tusar’s wide eyes moved to focus on the man’s face, but he said nothing.
The man put a white pudgy hand on the violinist’s shoulder. “You go back in there and sit down,” he said persuasively. His voice was a deep rumble with a rasp of asperity, in spite of his obvious desire to be sympathetic and reassuring. He was Tusar’s height, but much heavier and more than twice as old, something over fifty—well-fed, well-groomed in his evening elegance, palpably well-placed in whatever orbit he inhabited. His hand was light but firm on the youth’s shoulder. “This won’t do, Jan. Sit down and take it easy until you’re called.…”
“My hands are cold,” Tusar complained. There was scarcely controlled terror in his voice. “They won’t get warm. My fingers are stiff—What time is it?”
“A quarter past eight. You must—”
“Where’s Mrs. Pomfret?”
“She went home. She made Henry take her home. You shouldn’t have—”
“Let me alone! I’m all right. But I wish she—who’s that over there with Diego?”
“Diego Zorilla?” The man turned to look. “I don’t know.”
“His eyes looked right through me! What’s that sticking out of his pocket?” Tusar’s voice was petulant and aggrieved. “Coming to a concert with his pockets stuffed full of packages! Diego! Come here, will you?”
Diego came trotting—a stocky man somewhat older than Tusar, not as tall, with swarthy skin and black eyes and hair.
“Well, Jan!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “May Orpheus ride your bow!”
“Thanks, Diego. Who’s that with you? I want to meet him.”
“Why, he’s a friend … we didn’t …”
“I want to meet him.”
“Very well, of course.” Diego turned to beckon with his finger, and the other man crossed to join them. Of medium size and height, in his early thirties, there was nothing remarkable about his appearance unless you met directly the swift penetration of his brown eyes or were observant enough to note the smooth and effortless power of his movement. Before he had stopped beside Diego Zorilla, Tusar demanded:
“Why did you look at me like that? What have you got in your pocket?”
“This is my friend,” Diego said sharply. “Naturally, Jan, you are in a state, but you are not a child. My friend’s name is Mr. Tecumseh Fox, Mr. Jan Tusar.” He included the elegant older man, still there: “Mr. Adolph Koch.” His voice sharpened again: “You have heard me speak of Mr. Fox. He is the one who at my request contributed to the purchase—”
“Please!” Fox cut him off, hastily and peremptorily.
“Oh,” Tusar said with a frown of irritation, glancing at the violin in his hand as if he had forgotten it was there. “This—you helped—” Suddenly his face and voice changed completely; he was charmingly ashamed and contrite. “I’m sorry—I’m damn sorry—”
“Forget it,” said Fox bluntly, smiling at him. “Diego shouldn’t have mentioned it, and he shouldn’t have dragged me back here anyway. My manners are defective. I have a habit of staring at people. I apologize. This—” he slapped the package protruding from his side pocket—“is a carton of cigarettes. Another bad habit.”
“A carton?” The youth tittered. “A whole carton?” He started to laugh, but it was more like a squeak, nervous and high-pitched. “You hear that, Mr. Koch? A whole carton in his pocket! That’s the funniest—that’s worse even than you—” His shrill laughter, crescendo and accelerando, pierced the air.
There was a general stir and movement, and shocked ejaculations. A man, apparently buried in gloom and foreboding, who had been standing ten paces off, ran up and grabbed Adolph Koch by the elbow, muttering at him. Others approached, the woman in sable with a determined stride jostling Tecumseh Fox, who promptly retreated to his former position near the passage to the stage and surveyed the scene from there. In a moment he was joined by his friend Zorilla, who was shaking his head darkly and mumbling to himself.
Fox spoke to Zorilla’s ear, not to shout against the confused half-hysterical babel: “Do you tell me this is a conventional prelude to a violin recital?”
“There is nothing conventional,” the other growled savagely, “about what is happening here. I know. I tried it once.” He held up his left hand. On it the middle and third fingers were only pitiful stubs, chopped off below the knuckle. “Before that happened.”
“But nothing. In two hours Jan will be established on the peak or he will have tumbled into a crevasse, perhaps never to climb out again.”
“I understand that, but who the devil are those others? Why doesn’t someone—who is that clawing at the skeleton in sable?”
“That’s Felix Beck, Jan’s teacher and coach.”
“Who’s the pretty girl hugging herself and looking scared to death?”
“Dora Mowbray, Jan’s accompanist. Naturally she is scared. Her father was my manager, and also Jan’s—you know, Lawton Mowbray, who fell from his office window a few months ago and smashed on the pavement. The tall young chap pushing the others away is Perry Dunham, the son of Mrs. Pomfret. Irene Dunham Pomfret—you know about her. Her son by her first husband.”
“Where is she?”
Diego shrugged. “I don’t know. Perhaps out front in her box. I would have expected her to be here.”
“Who—for God’s sake, coming out of the dressing room! They were in there too! Who is it?”
“You know her.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Look again. You go to movies.”
“Not often. Is she one of them?”
“Yes, indeed. It’s Hebe Heath. I don’t know who that young fellow is with her. Look at her pulling at Jan, and look at Koch watching her.”
“I don’t want to.” Fox sounded disgusted. “Some one with a little sense ought to wade into that. Let’s go out to our seats.”
Diego nodded. “It’s nearly time. Only a minute or two.” His black eyes were aimed across at Jan Tusar, still at the dressing-room door, surrounded by confusion and clamor. “It’s a terrible thing for a boy, that long walk onto that stage, with your fingers hot and moist on the strings—or cold and dry is even worse. Come on, Fox, this way.”