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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 44

Greg Bear

  "Did he give you instructions before you left?"

  Michael shook his head. Let the detective interpret that whichever way he wanted.

  "Did you know these two women?"

  The simplest answer, Michael decided, was none at all.

  Harvey waited patiently and, when Michael didn't reply, sighed and said, "Do you know of any connection between them and Waltiri?"


  "Then why was Waltiri's name on the stone tablet, along with theirs?"

  "I don't understand."

  The lieutenant produced a glossy eight-by-ten photograph from the folder and held it out with fingers at the top corners for Michael's inspection. Michael took the photo and sat down in the chair across from Harvey's. The depiction was of a block of stone, about ten inches square and several inches deep, judging from a ballpoint pen placed on the floor beside it for scale. On the tablet was carved:



  Guardians past need

  Victims of Arno Waltiri

  "Can you see why we might be suspicious, why we think there might be a connection?" Harvey asked. "One of my younger officers knew that Waltiri was a composer and that he had died. I took it from there. Eventually, you made the connection seem much stronger."

  "How did they die?" Michael asked.

  "We don't know. The mummy had been dead for some time. And if you're concerned about my not believing a very strange story, well, don't be. I'll listen to anything."

  "I still don't understand," Michael said.

  Harvey leaned forward, replacing the photograph. "The fat woman was shedding her skin. It was loose, like a sack. And the mummy…" He cleared his throat and looked troubled. "Had a very odd affliction. Too many joints. Some sort of freak. We thought they might be circus freaks. Were they ever in the circus?"

  "I don't know," Michael said.

  Harvey took a deep breath. "There's stuff you'd tell me, but-"

  The chimes sounded again.

  "Your visitor," Harvey said.


  "Was it murder?" Harvey asked, staring at him intently.

  "I don't know," Michael said.,

  "You're not holding something back because you're involved?"

  "No, I'm not," Michael said. "It would be difficult to explain. Perhaps later - we can talk? If you'll tell me more, I'll tell you… " No need to dissemble. "I'll tell you as much as you'll believe. I don't want to hide anything. Their being in the building was a surprise to me."

  Harvey took another deep breath and stood up. "Later today?"


  "Four o'clock this afternoon, I'll call you here."


  "You're not leaving town, Mr. Perrin?"


  "Better answer your door."

  Michael opened the door, and Kristine stood there, smiling and radiant and expectant. The contrast was so sharp Michael felt another brush with Preeda. Harvey stepped up behind him, said hello pleasantly to her, and then glanced at Michael as he walked in an S around them and out the door. "Four o'clock," he reiterated.

  "Who's that?" Kristine asked. Harvey crossed the lawn and opened the door to an unmarked sky-blue car parked in front of the Dopso house.

  "The police," Michael said.

  Kristine gave Michael a sharp, discerning and altogether intrigued look. Michael smiled and invited her in.

  "Are you in trouble?" she asked lightly, entering the house. She absorbed the interior with a series of slow, entranced sweeps of her eyes.

  "No," Michael said. "I don't think so."

  "This place is wonderful," she enthused. Then she glanced over her shoulder and gave him an unconsciously beguiling Mona Lisa smile. "I hope you don't think I'm starstruck, but could I have a tour?"

  "My pleasure," Michael said. He conducted her through the first-floor rooms, deftly avoiding the service porch and the library, then took her upstairs. She absorbed everything quietly, as if she were on a long-overdue pilgrimage.

  "I know so little about him," she said. "There's not much biographical material available - some interviews with his colleagues, and what I've learned from Edgar Moffat. In some ways, Waltiri was the quintessential forties film composer - don't you think?"

  Michael hadn't given the question much thought. "I suppose so," he said. Most of his attention was focused on her, with an embarrassing concentration he hadn't felt since he had been alone with Helena in the Realm. (And where was she, now?)

  Kristine examined the framed prints hanging in the upstairs hall. "From Germany," she said. "They're old - they must have belonged to his family."

  Did Arno Waltiri ever have a family, or a true human past? If not, he had assembled the evidence scrupulously.

  "You only knew him a few months?"

  Michael nodded.

  "And he sort of adopted you?"

  "We were friends," Michael said. "My father built furniture for him - his piano bench, that sort of thing. He came to a party at our house, and I met him there. Golda, also."

  "Edgar tells me Golda was a darling woman."

  "She was very nice," Michael said.

  "Where did he do his composing?"

  "There's a music library downstairs. That was where the study was."

  "And you mentioned a basement, where you found the manuscript?"

  "Yes…" Michael said slowly. "I'd like you to see the manuscript first. And there's the attic - a lot of memorabilia is stored up there."

  "You're being very mysterious, Michael." The glance she gave him was both intrigued and wary. It suddenly occurred to him that whatever childish pleasure he might derive from being mysterious could not possibly equal the pleasure of her continued company.

  He would much rather be completely open with her.

  "I don't know where to begin," Michael said, looking at the carpet. They were near the stairs, and he took the first step down. "So I'll start with the manuscript."

  He had left it on the piano. They returned to the living room, and Michael removed the manuscript from the manila envelope, handing it to her. She glanced at it with some shock and reluctantly took it from him, holding it on the tips of her fingers.

  "It looks as if it's been soaking in something," she said. She rubbed a finger across the shimmering surface experimentally. "This is the way you found it?"


  "It w hard to read. What caused the paper to change?"

  "Smell it," he suggested. She lifted it to her nose.

  "Mmm," she said. "That's nice - I like that. Perfume? Soap or something?" She shook her head before he had a chance to answer. "No. Let me guess…" She sniffed it again, closing her eyes and almost hugging the manuscript to her. "That's really lovely. I could smell that all day."

  "The scent was much stronger when I first found it," Michael said.

  "Well, what is it?"

  "It's the music, I think."

  She gave him a hard look. "I'm not that starstruck, however much I admire Waltiri."

  Her reaction took him aback. "I don't have any other explanation," he said. "Have you ever smelled anything like it?"

  She wrinkled her brow in thought, then shook her head. "Maybe he brought the paper over from Europe. Were there any other copies - you know, performer's copies?"

  "Just this one. After what happened, he may have had other copies destroyed."

  "Okay. May I see the office and basement now?" With some reluctance, she returned the manuscript to him, and he replaced it in the envelope. Morning light through the arched front windows caught the envelope, and he saw a discoloration. The influence was passing from the manuscript to the envelope. "We can try to get it photocopied," she said. "If you trust me with it, I'll take it to the school…"

  "I trust you," Michael said, "but I think I'd rather handle this copy. For the time being."

  "I understand," she said.

  The music library was dark and cool. Michael switched on the desk lamp and opened the shutters on
the rear windows, admitting light filtered through the green clumps of giant bird of paradise at the rear of the house.

  "All of his master tapes and records," Kristine said in awe. "This is wonderful. There must be hundreds of scores here," She passed before the cases filled with tape boxes and old, oversized lacquer master disks in bulky cardboard sleeves. "Have you listened to them?"

  "Not to these, not yet," Michael said.

  "Ohh… I wouldn't be able to wait, if I were you. This is priceless. We have to get them copied. These could be the only recordings."

  "I've been thinking about buying new sound equipment and doing that," Michael said. "But I've really only just started getting organized."

  "You're not a trained conservator," she said. "Are you?"

  "No," Michael admitted.

  "That's what this really needs. A musicologist and a conservator."

  "I suppose it does. I'll take whatever help I can get."

  "I think I can convince the department this is important. What's in the basement?"

  "More papers, manuscripts," Michael said.

  "I'd like to see them, too."

  "I'll show you anything you want," he said. "It really isn't mine to conceal… if you see what I mean."

  "No," she said. "What do you mean? Is there something all that mysterious about old papers and records and tapes?"

  "Do you believe the stories of what happened when the concerto was first performed?" Michael asked, deciding to adopt her pointblank style.

  "No," she said.

  "Do you believe music has a power beyond notes on paper and sounds in the air?"

  She frowned. Her face was not accustomed to frowning, that much was obvious. "Yes," she said, "but I'm not… gullible, I'm as much of a realist as a music-lover can be."

  She had been a beautiful child, not so long ago, Michael thought. Her mother raised her after divorcing the father early, and her childhood was reasonably happy, and she developed rapidly both in body and mind, she was independent - He closed his eyes when her face was turned and abruptly cut off the probe. He was ashamed for having begun it. But what he had found made her even more enchanting.

  Kristine Pendeers was a genuinely good person, without a hint of guile.

  "The basement?" she prodded, catching him with a blank and inward-turned look on his face.

  "This way."

  He opened the service porch door and switched on the light, then went to find the flashlight. When he returned, she was still at the top of the steps, and she didn't look happy. "I don't like enclosed places," she said.

  "We don't have to go down there," he said.

  "Oh, I'll go. I just don't like the dark and the smallness. I can handle it." She preceded him, and he shined the light between the stair railings to fill in their shadows and show her the stacks of papers and the armoire. She took a deep breath and turned in the cramped space between the boxes and cabinet. Michael remained on the stairs.

  "May I…?" she asked, touching the armoire's left door. Michael nodded.

  She opened the door and surveyed the letters on the shelves within. "Wine bottles," she said with a grin, tapping one lightly with her knee. "You haven't read the letters yet, have you?"

  "Not yet. I found the manuscript in there and left the rest for later."

  She nodded and lightly riffled a tied bundle of letters. Then she lifted up on tiptoe and tilted the bundle outward a few inches to see the topmost letter.

  "Oh, my god," she said softly.

  "What?" Michael descended a step, alarmed.

  "This top letter… it's from Gustav Mahler. I only read a little German, but the signature… Can we open this and look at the rest of the bundle?"

  Michael drew a Swiss army knife from his pocket and handed it to her. She sliced the string carefully and returned his knife, then lifted the letters away one by one. "They're all from Mahler… They're not dated… But some have envelopes. These are worth a fortune, Michael!"

  "Who are they to?" he asked.

  "The first one says 'Arno, lieber Freund'. And the next, 'Lieber Arno'. They're all to Waltiri."

  "He was only a boy when Mahler was alive," Michael said. Oh?

  "Maybe so, but they're all addressed to him." She handed him the stack. The letters at the bottom had been sent from Wien - Vienna; farther up the stack, from New York; and then the rest from Munchen - Munich - and Vienna again. There must have been two dozen letters, some more than five pages long.

  "That's a find," Kristine said. "That's a real find. If that doesn't convince the department, I'll just give up. Boxes and boxes of stuff…who knows how many correspondents, all over the world?"

  "There's a manuscript of a Stravinsky oratorio up in the attic," Michael said. "And letters from all sorts of people - Clark Gable."

  Kristine's face was flushed with excitement. "Okay," she said, raising and lowering her shoulders and arms like a fledgling bird. "Enough of this. This is too much all at once." She giggled and held her hand to her lips. "Sorry. It's just incredible. This whole house is crammed with treasure!"

  "I really don't know why he put me in charge of it," Michael said, preceding her up the steps. "I don't know half what I should know. I only know of Mahler because Arno mentioned him to me."

  "He chose you because he trusted you," Kristine said. "That's obvious. There's nothing wrong with that. He knew you'd find all the right people and straighten everything out. When you hear what has happened to other estates, to the libraries and papers of people even more famous… it makes you shudder. Sold off, auctioned, broken apart, rejected by big universities for lack of space. God. It makes you want to cry. But this… it's all here." Suddenly, standing in the service porch, Kristine impulsively reached out and hugged Michael. "I have to go now. If you can get the manuscript of the concerto copied, perhaps I can pick it up this evening?"

  "I'll try," Michael said.

  "There's a U-Copy place not too far from here… three or four blocks."

  Michael nodded.

  "That policeman said he'd be back this afternoon…" Kristine regarded him from the corners of her eyes. "What do you think?"

  "About what?"

  "Is he going to keep you busy very long?"

  "No." Michael decided.

  "Good. Then I'll call about six. Maybe we can have dinner?"

  Michael's interior warmed appreciably. "That'll be fine."

  He escorted her to the front door and watched her return to her car. Kristine's walk, like all her movements, was lithe and graceful, with an unaffected insouciance in the push of her legs and the angle of her shoulders.

  Even after she drove away, Michael was reluctant to close the door. He felt ridiculous, standing there with the morning well along, but now that she was gone, there didn't seem to be anything very important to do.

  All of his training, all of his discipline, could not keep him from feeling empty and confused in her absence.

  "You're a mess," he whispered to himself and shut the door with a decisive clunk.

  Chapter Seven

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  Michael carried the manuscript of The Infinity Concerto into the U-Copy and waited in line behind a broad, short woman in a dark wool coat. She fidgeted impatiently and patted her thinning black hair with a plump hand. Ahead of her, a middle-aged man with a bulbous nose copied a tax form dozens of times. When he finished, he smiled as if he had just solved the problems of the world, paid the clerk and walked out the door.

  The woman in the dark wool coat knew nothing about copy machines. The clerk, a raw-boned girl with an open and pleasant face, tried to explain the operation but met with an obstinate stare and finally did the job herself. She glanced at Michael and smiled wryly. "This'll just take a sec," she said. That commission completed, she took a quarter from the woman, who grumbled and shook her head as she left.

  "You know how to work the machine?" the clerk asked. She wore jeans and a man's white work shirt.

nodded. "This might not be an easy job, though."

  "Oh? What are you copying?"

  He removed the manuscript from the envelope. "It's been soaked in something," he lied, trying to avoid other explanations.

  "Hope it wasn't toxic waste," the clerk said, eying the manuscript distastefully. She sniffed. "Smells good, whatever it was."

  She dialed the machine to a new setting. "This might work." Michael removed the green-corroded paper clip from the music sheets.

  However its eyes was constructed, the machine saw none of the glistening, oily distortion. Each page came out in plain black and white from the machine, with faint edges of gray.

  "Does fine, huh?" the clerk asked.

  "Great," Michael said, surprised.

  "Did you get the glass dirty?" she asked casually after he had finished the last page.

  "No, I don't think so," he said.

  "I'd like to know what it was soaked in, actually," she said. "Might appeal to my boyfriend."

  Michael thanked her and carried both sets to the Saab. Simple enough, he thought. How long would it take the notes on the duplicate to transform the photocopy's fresh white paper?

  He locked both manuscript and duplicate in Waltiri's library safe.

  From the basement, he removed the open bundle of Mahler letters, found a German-English dictionary and sat on a patio chair in the back yard, warming nicely now in late morning sunshine, to make an attempt at translation. It was slow going. How much easier if there was a German speaker nearby; he could tap the knowledge, in-speak and translate effortlessly. He closed his eyes and let his probe go out through the neighborhood. There was no way of knowing how far he could reach. Before last night, he had never probed beyond a few dozen meters.

  He seemed to be suspended in a dense leafy glade with neither leaves nor light. In this glade he found…

  An elderly man whose mind was like banked coals, feverish with speculation on some topic he could not discern; the old man spoke only English and gutter Spanish.

  A young girl home from summer school, in bed with a cold. She also knew rudimentary Spanish and was reading Walter Farley books stacked six high beside her.

  A woman cleaning a large and elegantly furnished house, her mind filled with strikingly original jazz. Was she black, Michael wondered? There was no way of telling; her thoughts were of no particular color, and whatever voices he heard in people's heads betrayed no accents. She did not speak German.