Excerpt from Murder On The Rue Cassette, publishing soon
Teo stood in the doorway of the parlor, hesitating for a moment. He breathed in and closed his eyes. Yes, he must wait until she finished the piece.
“I bought this for you from the workroom of Sébastien Érard.
Maria lifted her face. “I know all about him, the inventor of the double escapement action.”
He held it out, a pamphlet about Érard’s harps and pianos. It had photographs of some of the grand pianos in the collection at the museum with a description and the prices underneath. “One day I shall buy two or three Érard pianos for you. Would you like brown or black?”
Maria smirked. “You’re a boot boy. Where will you get the money to pay for them?”
He ran a tongue around his lips. “We saw them in the Chateau de la Muette.”
“I should have been there. Mama was wrong not to take me to Paris. It has hurt my career. I have been cursed. The wrong parent died and now I’m surrounded by those who don’t care a fig about music.”
Teo said nothing.
“But at least you thought of me.” She smiled.
Teo blushed. His forehead prickled with sweat and he rubbed his hands on his pantaloons.
“Are you going to sit or not? You’re distracting me. And I think I want two browns and one black.”
“We just got home. The ship was faster on the return trip. Only took a day and a half from Marseille. Favorable winds.” He told her that her mother married in Aix, the day before they left for Marseille.
“I heard. That count person?”
“He’s all right, I guess. He appreciates my playing and likes Brahms.”
“House seems empty. My baby brother’s all right?”
She shrugged. “I guess so, I never go up to the nursery. But sometimes I hear the nurse singing to him. What would you like to hear?”
Teo felt the new stubble on his upper lip. His hands trembled so he shoved them in his pocket. He hoped his voice sounded deep. “Whatever you want to play.”
“Don’t say that. Tell me the name of a piece or give me the name of a composer. Anyone will do.”
“Don’t know his work.”
“Teasing. He’s our age and attends the Paris Conservatory. He played at a party we went to. Three waltzes by Charles Marie Widor.”
She made a face. “Who?”
“The organist at St. Sulpice. And Debussy’s piano was unique. Not as good as yours, but you’d have enjoyed it, I think.”
“I knew Mama should have taken me. I would have played Brahms. They’d have been enchanted.”
“But the audience was French and Brahms is German.” He shouldn’t have said that, shouldn’t have done. He looked at her in alarm.
She didn’t seem to notice. She pushed her spectacles up and tossed her curls.
He noticed that Maria’s hair was a bit stringy, but he didn’t say anything. He’d never say anything that would hurt her. Ever. “That’s what I want to hear, the piece you would have played at the salon.”
The opening chords of the Brahms third piano sonata resounded. Then slowly, softly, the piano rumbled distant thunder, and Teo was home.
Photo: Two Young Girls at the Piano, oil on canvas, 1892, Auguste Renoir.