by Hy Conrad
Amy smiled. “Of course, I’ll join you for the weekend, Barry. It sounds lovely.” Barry Whitaker was a rather sexy agent who booked his musician clients into venues from Carnegie Hall to La Scala. His natural appeal was enhanced by the fact that David Locklear didn’t like him. Amy wasn’t above trying to make the captain a little jealous.
The weather was sunny and brisk, with the leaves at the peak of autumn color. The setting was a lavishly appointed country house. And the company was a renowned pianist and his witty, worldly friends. It had all the right ingredients. But it was turning out all wrong.
As an outsider, Amy didn’t know exactly what was going on, but the tension was palpable. And it all centered on the host–Bruce Browne, the virtuoso who had done for pianos what Pavaroti had done for tenors. Since arriving, Amy had spoken to Bruce for a total of three minutes. The rest of the time, he was a morose, almost ghostly presence, wandering the grounds and practicing his art in “the shed”, a rehearsal cabin a hundred yards or so from the main house.
By Sunday morning, everyone’s nerves were on edge. One by one, the group gathered on the porch. Barry brought a deck of cards and laid out a game of solitaire on the wicker coffee table. The noted surgeon, Cecil Freers, opened a best seller and began to read. Amy helped Julia Browne, wife and hostess, set the porch table with carafes of coffee and orange juice, while Bruce Browne’s business manager, Lana Polaski, sat bundled up, her head and legs peeping out from beneath a blanket.
“I saw Bruce heading down to the shed this morning,” Barry said, looking up from his cards. The temperamental musician was once again the topic of conversation. Amy was ready to scream.
“I don’t know why he’s so depressed,” Julia sighed. “It’s as if…” She stopped as the music of a Chopin sonata echoed off the trees. “Ah!” Julia turned in the direction of the unseen shed. “It’s good to hear him practicing.”
“The doors must be open,” Cecil said. “That shed is pretty soundproof.”
The piano solo ceased. In the ensuing silence another song began, a tinny, computerized snatch of Mozart, playing somewhere in the house. “My cell phone,” Amy yelped.
“You left it upstairs,” Barry said.
“I saw it, too,” Julia said.
Amy was off in a flash, heading inside and up the stairs. The Mozart ring was coming from a side alcove. And there the phone was, lying by an open window.
The ringing ended just as she reached the phone. And then came another sound–a gunshot. Instinctively, Amy looked out. Had it come from the shed? The rehearsal cabin was framed perfectly in the alcove window.
Amy scanned the shed and the surrounding lawn, alert to any sign of movement. Four voices were talking, sounding concerned. Before long she could see them, coming around the house and heading toward the shed.
Amy grabbed her cell phone and headed back downstairs.