About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Lost Concerto
By Helaine Mario
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2015 Helaine Mario
All rights reserved.
BOSTON. TEN MONTHS LATER, JULY 2
"Luze? Are you here? Hello?"
Maggie O'Shea closed the blue door of The Piano Cat music shop and stood motionless, listening.
The large, book-lined room was cool and empty of customers. Late-day sun spilled through the huge bow window onto scattered sheet music and the Steinway grand piano that stood in the curve of the window.
Deliberately turning her back on the piano, she pulled her sweat-soaked t-shirt away from her skin and kicked off her running shoes with a sigh. The afternoon had been too hot to run, after all. You need a shower, she told herself, lifting the heavy mass of her hair away from her neck just as her grandmother's wall clock began to chime.
Seven o'clock. Finally. Turning to lock the front door, she caught her reflection in the glass. The face staring back at her was a pale oval, all cheekbones and eyes too large for her face, surrounded by a cloud of black hair.
You have hair the color of a summer's night, Maggie-mine.
You never know, she thought, when you will be ambushed by grief.
Almost nine months after her husband's death, there were good days and bad days. Still, unexpected moments triggered the flood of memories. A voice, a word, a gesture from a stranger on the street. The sight of an empty chair at the end of the day. A reflection in a glass ...
And earlier, as she'd run through the Boston Public Garden, it was the scent of the roses.
Johnny had always given her roses. "Red for passion," he'd say in his great rumbling voice, his arms full of huge crimson blooms, "and roses because their scent is like your skin." Once, in a crowded restaurant, he had leaned across the table and slowly, maddeningly, tucked a rose between her breasts. Then he'd teased her when she blushed like a schoolgirl.
She turned her head, her gaze once more seeking the piano. This time, the Steinway drew her across the room. She sank to the piano bench and clenched her fingers in her lap. In the cluster of silver-framed photographs on the Steinway, Johnny smiled at her from a Martha's Vineyard dock. One arm was flung affectionately around her son Brian, the other held an enormous bass high in the air. Her husband's bright blue eyes stared into hers.
We lost you too soon, Johnny.
For almost twenty years, it had been just mother and son. Single mom Maggie Stewart and her son, Brian. A good life, but a quiet one—filled with baseball and school, scouting and piano lessons, and later with girls and jazz concerts and late-night talks over huge bowls of popcorn. She could never understand why her son stayed so thin.
And then, the summer before Brian's last year at Penn, the journalist John Patrick O'Shea had stormed into their lives at a Red Sox game and swept both of them into his magical orbit. A great bear of an Irishman with his wild red beard and rumbling voice, he had filled their small apartment, and their hearts, with joy and laughter.
Now the apartment was quiet again. Brian and his seven months pregnant wife were living on Cape Cod. And the voice of her husband no longer filled the silence.
The soft click of computer keys drifted from the music shop's rear office. So that was where her friend Luze was hiding. Working late, as usual.
Even the clicking reminded Maggie of her husband. An award-winning investigative journalist, Johnny O'Shea was always banging on his antique Corona late into the night. "Come to bed, Johnny," she would say. "Finish the story in the morning." Then the clicking keys would fall silent, and she would feel his weight all warm next to her and breathe in the woodsy scent of his skin ...
She closed her eyes, trying to see his face. But all she could see were broken silver sails spinning in ink-black water. On the bad days, the images repeated in her head, again and again, like the notes in a Bach fugue.
Bach ... Maggie's breath came out in a long sigh as she raised her hands to the Steinway keyboard. Very slowly, her fingertips brushed the ivory and ebony keys, once as warm and alive as her husband's touch. Now the keys were cold as river stones beneath her rigid fingers.
The Steinway was deafeningly silent. She looked down at the words printed in bold letters on her damp t-shirt. You are the music while the music lasts. T. S. Eliot. "Magdalena O'Shea, concert pianist," she said aloud. But the music hadn't lasted.
Her throat tightened. Ex-concert pianist, she reminded herself.
God, she missed her music. Some days the longing was almost unbearable. The piano was one of her first memories. And music—it was as essential as air in her life. It was in her blood, her bones, her very soul.
So many times, since her husband's death, she had forced herself to sit in front of the keyboard and begin the simple scales and chords that would stretch muscles grown stiff with disuse. But each time she tried to play, all she could see was the small shattered sailboat. And her fingers would freeze on the silent keys.
If only I hadn't asked him to go. If only I'd gone with him. If only he hadn't gone sailing that day. If only, if only. Sometimes Maggie thought she would go mad with the compulsion to reshape the past.
She sat staring down at her narrow fingers. Johnny had loved to listen to her play the Steinway. "Make your music for me, Lass," he would say, coming to her and swinging her around in his arms. "Tonight I need to hear Scarlatti." And she would play for him.
"I need the music to come back, Johnny," whispered Maggie. Once again tears threatened behind her lids. I will not cry, she thought furiously. She knew that if she ever really let the tears come she wouldn't be able to stop the storm until she was completely hollow inside. Until her bones rattled.
"I've really made a mess of things, haven't I, Johnny?"
Sometimes, when she talked to him like this, she could see him so clearly. Her phantom lover, looking at her across the piano, his eyes so blue and electric, his beard red and soft and curling around his smiling mouth. She ached for him, ached for the sound of his voice describing the simple moments of his day.
She closed her eyes. In the stillness of the room, she could feel him now, standing behind her.
Johnny? she tried.
His voice answered, low and close.
Yes, Lass. I'm here.
Johnny! Oh Johnny, I'm missing you so today.
Always near, Mo Graidh.
Sometimes I see your shadow in the mirror. Am I going crazy? Why can I see you?
Because you need to see me, Maggie-mine. But you're too thin.
You were always the better cook ...
No more pills, though, Maggie? No more scotch?
No. I poured everything down the sink.
Holy Mother! Not our Cabernet collection too?
I'm lonely, Johnny, not crazy. But the wine can't keep the nightmares away.
I know, Lass.
It's not over, is it, Johnny?
No. It's not over.
Don't go. I need to know ...
You need to live your life, Maggie-mine. I love you ...
He was gone.
Maggie opened her eyes, surprised to find herself alone at the piano. She touched her cheek, certain that she could still feel the gentle caress of her husband's fingers.
It's not over ...
Fear brushed her, like a shadow in a dark theatre. Behind her the clock chimed the half hour. Seven thirty. Soon it would be dark.
She stood and moved to place the Bach Tomorrow, Offenbach Sooner sign on the blue shop door. Clicking on the radio, she stood very still as the bright opening notes of a Mozart concerto flooded the room. It was the No. 19 in F major. She had played it two summers ago at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Johnny had been watching her from the sixth row.
Damn, damn. Where was a melancholy nocturne when she needed one? Catching up her damp hair with a tortoise clip, her eyes fell on the crystal decanter that sat on a small table by the sofa.
Shower or drink?
"Drink," she said out loud.
* * *
The dark-skinned man sat at one of the small tables outside the Charles Street Café. In the last moments of sunset, the deep-hued red brick across the street glowed with fire. He tapped a pencil thoughtfully on the rim of his coffee cup as he watched the woman's shadow through the music shop window.
The waiter appeared at his elbow. "A nice glass of Napa Char?"
"Just one more java, pal," said the man. "Black." His pencil hovered over the folded newspaper in his hand. "And gimme a fourteen-letter word that means 'sense of the body in space.'"
The waiter just shook his head as he turned away.
The man dropped the newspaper, with its half-finished crossword puzzle, to the white tablecloth as his iPhone buzzed for the fifth time in as many minutes.
The clock is ticking on this one ...
Once more he looked toward the window in the music shop across the street.
He'd seen her return, watched her disappear through the blue door. A small, slender woman. Some looker, with all that wild black hair. Funny, how life worked sometimes. Because just last week, in Cairo, his friend Ahmed had predicted that there was a woman with hair the color of night in his future.
Just let her be the one.CHAPTER 2
BOSTON. JULY 2
Your problem, Mrs. O'Shea, is that you blame yourself for your husband's death.
Oh, you think so, Doctor? She didn't need a damned therapist to tell her that.
Curled like a cat into the soft sofa pillows, Maggie closed her eyes until the voice was gone and only the notes of the Mozart concerto filled the air. She drank deeply from the glass of topaz-colored wine and waited for the cool liquid to ease the tightness in her chest.
She'd bought the two-story brownstone from a Turkish carpet dealer decades earlier, after she had fallen in love with the Dickensian Beacon Hill neighborhood of gas-lit lamps, steep cobbled streets, and tiny secret gardens. She and her son had lived in the small two-bedroom apartment above the shop until he'd graduated high school.
Her eyes dropped to the Persian carpet of faded gold and blue, a parting gift from the shop's previous owner that filled the air with a faint, lingering spicy scent when the tall windows were closed. In spite of its questionable ancestry, the Persian provided an island for the old sofa where Maggie sat, and for the two red leather wingchairs that faced each other across Johnny's antique chess set.
She pictured her husband, sitting in his favorite chair, his too-blue eyes smiling at her over the chess pieces. Checkmate, Lass. It's time for bed.
Maggie took a deep swallow of wine and gazed around her. Full of color and light, the room was more like a private study than a shop. Oak bookcases and glassed cabinets held a wide collection of musical scores and books. Glimmering watercolors of Martha's Vineyard lit the walls. An antique glass lamp cast an amber pool over a long refectory table. By the huge bow window, her mother's Steinway glowed with purple light.
She smiled, caught by a memory of her son sitting at that piano, pounding out Dave Brubeck. Her son loved that piano as much as she did.
Brian. Her tall, talented, tenderhearted son, with that charming devil-may-care smile and, now, all the cockiness of a soonto-be dad. So bright, so funny and fine. He'd married his Laura two years ago, and settled on Cape Cod to teach and play jazz. Their baby would be born in two months, close to Johnny's birthday. And would, no doubt, have the same charming smile as her son.
Johnny would have been crazy about his grandchild. If only—
An enormous creature the color of ripe melon appeared at Maggie's shoulder.
"Gracie to the rescue," murmured Maggie. She settled the huge old cat on her lap and poured another glass of wine. Fifteen years earlier, on a bright winter morning, Brian had found the one-eyed kitten, hungry and squalling, in the rear garden. For boy and cat, it was love at first sight.
"I'm calling him Rocky," announced Brian.
"Rach-y, like Rachmaninoff ?"
"Rocky, like the boxer!" groaned Brian, rolling his eyes.
But the cat had turned out to be a female. And since Brian had just discovered the James Bond movies, he had named her Grace Jones.
By evening, Gracie had been curled on the Steinway, enraptured by Brian's pulsing, if erratic, jazz rendition of Ruby Tuesday. So enraptured that she'd begun to sing along with bellowing meows. After that night, Stewart's Music Shop became, simply, The Piano Cat.
Smiling at the memory, Maggie scratched Gracie behind her golden ears. The Piano Cat would never make her rich, but it had allowed her precious time to practice her music. It was her concert fees that financed nights at the symphony, Vineyard summers at the cottage in Chilmark, and Brian's years at Penn.
Maggie drained the last of the wine and loosened her hair. Very deliberately, she turned her back on the silent Steinway across the room.
How do I find my way back, Johnny?
Sensing her mood, Gracie leaped from Maggie's lap and disappeared. Maggie set the wine glass down on the table and gazed around the empty room. In her mind, she began to play the opening notes of Scarlatti's Sonata in E major.
* * *
Across Charles Street, Special Agent Simon Sugarman of the United States Department of Justice leaned back in his chair and signaled the waiter.
"Found that word yet, bro?"
Sugarman grinned and held up the completed crossword puzzle. "Fifteen across. You're lookin' at the master, pal. Proprioception. Sense of the body in space."
"No kiddin'? Proprio ... ception?"
"I've changed my mind. I need to celebrate. Bring me a Tanqueray Martini. And, pal, just whisper the word vermouth over the gin."
Sugarman returned his gaze to The Piano Cat's bow window.
In spite of the heat, he did not mind the vigil. In a sense he had been waiting for a very long time. Now the wait was almost over. Soon, he knew, the woman would open the envelope he'd left for her. The final act in this little drama would begin.
And Magdalena O'Shea's life would change forever.
Sorry, babe, but I need you. You do what you gotta do.
Open the envelope, Magdalena. Look at the faces in that photograph.CHAPTER 3
THE MAINE COASTLINE. NIGHTFALL, JULY 2
Night fell early in this part of the world. Already, black shadows edged the cold waters of Penobscot Bay. The only light came intermittently, blinking from the lighthouse on the far cliff. Light, darkness. Light, darkness.
On a low bluff above a protected cove, a man stood waiting. Stamping his feet nervously, he checked his watch, then scanned the restless water. Light lit his face for an instant. Then darkness.
Stepping deeper into the shadows, he lifted his lamp. One brief flash, two, scattering on fingers of fog. Soon the mist would make the cove impossible to find. The man felt an odd sense of relief.
Then he turned and saw the boat spear silently out of the mist.
A tall man dressed in a blue windbreaker vaulted over the gunwale and strode onto the rocks. His hair was very blond, almost white, and much longer now. He'd grown a long drooping mustache since the spring—but the hawk nose was unmistakable. He still wore those damned mirrored glasses. Even in the dark.
The boat disappeared back into the mist. Dousing his lamp, the contact stepped from the shadow of the boulders and held out his hand. "Welcome to the US, Dane."
The man called Dane eased a backpack off his shoulders. Light touched the hard planes of his face for an instant, and he turned away. "Don't use my name again."
The man dropped his hand and turned toward the sea. "Navigating in the dark isn't—"
"You have what I need?" The low voice was silky and unnerving in the shadows.
"Yes. But we have a problem."
The blond man unzipped the leather sack. "I'm waiting."
"The traitor did her work too well. She did more than lure Victor to Paris. She got his photograph. Now, one of the stars at the Justice Department has a photograph of Victor, taken just weeks ago at the Café de la Paix."
Dane turned and looked directly at his contact for the first time. The man saw himself reflected in the mirrored glasses and felt his stomach tighten.
Light touched them briefly. Then darkness.
"Someone in the Attorney General's office has a recent photograph of Victor?"
Excerpted from The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario. Copyright © 2015 Helaine Mario. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.