of Symphony of Secrets
Symphony of Secrets by Sharon Hinck
Talented flutist Amy Johnson's dreams come true when she wins a spot with the Minneapolis Symphony. But this amateur sleuth has trouble concentrating on the notes as she begins to see devious motives behind her fellow musicians' many mishaps. Meanwhile, her musically talented daughter wants to give it all up for--gasp--the cheerleading squad! What's a musical mom to do? Can Amy fine-tune her investigation before the symphony is forced to close and she loses not only her dream job but her promising new relationship with its conductor?
Agitato: In a restless, agitated style. Italian, past participle of agitare, from Latin agitre, to agitate.
On Monday, I uncovered a drug ring in South Minneapolis. On Tuesday, I spotted a felony theft at a country club in Edina. On Wednesday, I overheard plans for industrial espionage while staking out the back room of a workshop in St. Paul.
On Thursday, my daughter blew all my cases out of the water.
No, my daughter isn't a defense attorney; she's a hopelessly practical girl with no imagination.
We'd agreed on supper together every Thursday night, no matter how busy her fifteen-year-old life became, and I couldn't wait to impress her with my week's discoveries. Clara slipped into the room and collapsed into her chair—a composition of baggy jeans, three layers of tank tops in various colors, and flip-flops. On her long, slim frame, it looked good.
The small wooden table in the kitchen was marred with nicks and stains from all the homework I'd helped Clara with over the years. The curtains on the window over the sink stirred in the spring breeze, kids shouted as they cycled down the alley, and a siren wailed in the distance. I pulled the window closed. Tonight would be chilly. April in Minnesota ran alternately hot and cool, like a Gershwin prelude.
"How was school?" I asked Clara as I ladled out some potato soup. A shrug. "Fine."
"And work? Was the café busy this afternoon?"
Another shrug. "It was okay."
Enough small talk.
"So." I tasted the soup and reached for the salt. "When Susie Nelson came for her flute lesson on Monday, I happened to look out the window. A guy dropped her off—kind of shady looking—and he called her back to the car and handed her a package. She slipped it into her shoulder bag."
Clara rolled her eyes and crumbled a cracker into her bowl. I could tell I had her hooked because she tucked her long, dark hair behind her ears in a subtle Freudian signal that she was listening. I drew out the suspense by reaching for a carrot stick. "When she started her warm-up scales, I glanced in her music bag. You'll never guess what she's up to. No wonder the girl's eyes glaze over every time I explain dynamics to her."
Clara snorted into her glass of milk. "Mom, everyone's eyes glaze over when you go off on one of your music rants."
"I'm serious. Guess what I saw."
"I give up." She yawned.
Like I said, no imagination. "A syringe. Susie is doing drugs, and I bet that guy is her pusher."
Clara pressed her lips together as if stifling a laugh. She reached for the butter and spread some on her roll. "I've gone to school with Susie since first grade."
"I know." I waved my spoon at her. "Now do you understand why I want you to transfer to the arts school next fall? There's still time. I know you missed the auditions, but I could put in a good word. They'll take applications until June."
She slammed her knife to the table and skewered me with her gaze. "You promised."
I lifted my hands. "Sorry. It's just—"
She slumped back in her chair. "Mom, did the guy have a ponytail? Blond hair?"
Excitement built behind my ribs, my heart ticking like an overwound metronome. I'd been trying to impress Clara with my detective prowess since I'd read Nancy Drew books to her by her crib. She was finally showing interest in one of my criminal discoveries. "Yes, that's the guy. He's a dealer, isn't he? Have you seen him around the school?"
"Of course I've seen him. His name is C.J."
Why does my daughter know a drug dealer by name?
Her grin widened. "Mom, C.J. is Susie's brother. He gives her a ride when their mom works late. Sweet guy. You'd like him. Plays classical guitar."
"But ... but the drugs."
Clara pushed back her chair and shook her head. She threw me a pitying look and sauntered out of the kitchen.
I left the dirty dishes on the table and followed her to the living room. She wasn't going to discount my sleuthing so easily.
Clara sank into a leather wing chair and stared into the vacant, brick fireplace. "Mom, I'm getting worried about you."
Worried about me? She was the one cozying up to an invisible fire in April. I flopped into the wooden rocker and frowned at her. "Because I notice things? I can't help being observant."
She shook her head. "You need a life. And by the way, Susie has diabetes."
"I have a life. And ..." Her words sank in. "Diabetes?"
"Yep." She picked up one of my Flute Talk magazines, flipped through a few pages, and tossed it aside. "How's your audition piece coming along?"
Kind of her to change the subject, now that she'd humiliated me. My cheeks felt warm, as if we really had logs burning in the fireplace. "I'm not happy with the phrasing in the rondo."
She nodded. "You'll get it."
No matter how much we squabbled, Clara remained my number one encourager. A month ago, my friend Lena, who played with the Minneapolis Symphony, had heard rumors there might be an opening soon, so I'd been more obsessed than usual these past weeks.
Clara rested her elbows on her legs and leaned forward, staring more deeply into the nonexistent fire. Her silky hair swung forward to curtain her face, and she sighed.
I pushed away my thoughts about the Concerto in D Major and the troubling rondo. "What's wrong?" Obsessive musician I may be, but when my daughter has a problem, I try to force myself into mommy mode.
Clara wrapped her arms around her middle and sighed again. The posture reminded me of the way her father used to sit when he was worried, and I felt the ache of an old injury.
"Come on." I reached forward to draw back her hair so I could see her face. "You can tell me."
She swiveled away from my hand and slouched back into her chair. "You won't understand."
Her scowl surprised me. She was usually as easygoing as I was moody, enduring my excesses with affectionate humor. A wave of guilt brushed across my skin. I really wasn't cut out to be a mom. I'd been doing pretty well, all things considered, but this past month I'd been neglecting her, preoccupied with the tantalizing hope of the symphony audition. "I'll try to understand. I promise. What's wrong?"
She propped her feet up on the hearth, bare toes flexing. "I had an audition today, and I'm worried. I didn't do great."
I gasped, unable to hide my excitement. Was she finally going to stop drifting and focus her talents? "For what?"
Her chin jutted forward in a gesture that I knew she'd learned from me. "Cheerleading."
Shock and horror made my throat constrict. "What?" I squeaked.
She gave me a level stare. "Told you. You don't understand."
I swallowed hard and picked up the gauntlet. "I'm just ... surprised." My near-genius daughter with the DNA of two gifted artists wanted to waste time shaking pom-poms?
Clara grinned slyly. "You're not upset? They're deciding next year's squad now, so they can practice all summer."
I gulped again. "I didn't realize you ... were interested in ... that."
"Cheerleading. Come on, you can say the word."
"Isn't this kind of sudden?"
Her gaze dropped. "I've been staying at school for practices before work."
"The past two months. Miguel let me come in later than usual."
Miguel knew about this? And I didn't?
Hurt, anger, and a low chord of shame rumbled in my heart. How had I missed this? She'd been deceiving me. Me, the great observer who could notice any note a fraction off-key and spot every hint in a mystery novel. I'd had no clue about her after-school activities.
Her dark eyes watched me with trepidation, waiting to see how I'd react.
Had I become such a tyrant? Were my outbursts and objections so predictable? I'd show her. I'd be Ultra-Supportive Mom.
I forced a smile. "Sweetie, you're great at whatever you set your mind to. I'm sure you did a terrific job at the audition."
"So you don't mind me doing something that's not artsy?"
"It just surprised me. Of course I want to support you."
She stretched and bounded to her feet with a wide smile. "Glad you approve. Because actually, I didn't do so bad. In fact, I made it." She whooped and jumped into the air, arching her back as if trying to get her heels to touch her head—some strange cheerleader contortion, I figured. Then she boogied across the room and up the stairs, laughing all the way.
I'd been suckered.
I crossed my arms and glared at my Steinway in the corner of the room. Clara played me better than I played Mozart. Her stereo kicked in from overhead, and the sound of thumps accompanied the exuberant passage of Beethoven. She had to be practicing those ridiculous leaps.
A smile tugged my lips, then grew into a wide grin. Seeing Clara this excited was worth the humiliation. I'd named my daughter for Clara Schumann—wife of the great composer Robert Schumann and a gifted musician in her own right. But although my Clara developed adequate keyboard technique, she didn't have the fire to pursue professional music. It figured. She had the opportunities and no fire. I had the fire in abundance. But opportunities? My detective instincts had been getting more exercise than my musical skills for years.
Music was a cruel god who demanded daily sacrifices and gave no promises in return. Even though I'd coaxed Clara to try the arts school, I didn't really want that kind of life for her. Tasting the bliss of performance and then living for years only nibbling crumbs had almost crushed my spirit. I wanted better for my daughter.
Hoping to garner some favor from my own unforgiving deity, I pulled out my flute and settled in for some serious practice, then stared at the magic metal in my hands and shook my head. I set it down gently and headed up to Clara's room instead.
I pounded on her door so she'd hear me over the Beethoven.
"Come in," she called.
After stepping into the room, I waited for her to turn down her stereo. "Time for a visit with Jane."
She grinned. "I have to admit I like her better than the Bronte gals."
Every night, we snuggled and read aloud to each other. Tonight we had a date with the last chapter of Pride and Prejudice.
"Hey, I still have to tell you about the thief I spotted, and the spy I overheard yesterday."
Clara laughed—music as sweet as the triplets in a Pachelbel toccata.
* * *
The next morning at breakfast, I made one more attempt to impress Clara with my crime-spotting skills.
"I still think I should tell the police about the theft on Tuesday. Or at least the manager at the country club." I stabbed my spoon into the grapefruit, and juice splattered my face. Maybe it would fade a few of my freckles.
Clara handed me a napkin from the ceramic holder she'd made when she was in junior high. "Trust me, Mom. I work the register at Miguel's. It's normal for a waiter to take money out of the till if the restaurant needs it somewhere else. Was it a busy night?"
I winced. "Of course. All the banquet rooms were full." So much for my crime detection skills. The case of the bartender needing change. That would never make it into Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
The conversation at Friedrich's workshop on Wednesday? She'd explained that away as well. I thought I'd heard an employee on his cell phone giving away proprietary secrets about seals—Friedrich was the best in the Midwest at shimming new pads when he made flute repairs.
After a few precise questions, Clara suggested the new technician had been discussing the seals at the Como Park Zoo. I had to admit I'd heard him say something about his daughter liking the monkeys, but I'd figured that was a code.
Honestly, who wouldn't have suspected him of espionage? Friedrich guarded his flute-repair secrets with his life.
Clara spoke around a mouthful of whole-grain toast. "I don't get how you can watch the waiters at the club when you're supposed to be playing your flute."
"Oh, please. The pieces they request take about as much concentration as a long nap."
Dimples flashed in the smooth skin of her cheeks, then disappeared. "Yep. You need a life."
A hint of sadness colored her tone. Did she think I was that unhappy? I reached across the table and laid my hand over hers. "I have a life. I have you."
Her nose wrinkled in what I called her "bunny grin." I loved her goofy, squish-faced smile. Then she tossed her hair back over her shoulder. "So why do you keep trying to uncover mysteries?"
"It's a gift," I said breezily.
She tossed a crust in my direction.
I ducked. "Seriously. Musicians are more attuned to detail. We notice subtle things."
"I've never heard Lena trying to solve crimes."
"She's a harpist." I smiled. "She's got her head in the clouds."
"And you don't?"
"Don't you have someplace you're supposed to be? Like school?"
She guzzled her orange juice and grabbed her backpack. "I can tell when I'm not wanted." She stuck out her tongue. "Oh, and I'll be home late."
"Let me guess ..."
"Cheerleading practice," she crowed. "Have a good day."
"Have a better one."
And she was gone. I poured myself a second cup of coffee and slumped onto my chair, studying my appointment calendar.
Sean Finnegan for voice coaching at ten.
I groaned. I hated tenors—especially this one, whose thick timbre made him sound like he forced the notes through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. But I couldn't afford to turn him away. Daytime students were hard to come by, especially since I only taught adults and a few exceptional teens. I could easily drum up students to fill the after-work hours, but I wanted to reserve most of my evenings for Clara.
At noon, Tessa Williams was coming on her lunch hour for a flute lesson. She wouldn't be half bad if she could improve her breath support. She played with a local jazz group, and I was helping her expand her classical repertoire. She'd probably cut the hour short, as usual, so she could rush back to her secretarial job.
I rested my chin in my hand. A gifted musician like Tessa shouldn't have to work as a secretary, but performing as a musician was rarely enough to pay the bills unless you were in a large orchestra that hired full-time musicians. The competition was intense for those spots. I'd walked away from the opportunity fifteen years ago. I'd had two years at Juilliard and nothing but promise ahead of me.
My coffee suddenly tasted bitter, and I stood to pour the rest down the sink. If I hurried, I could fit in some practice time before Sean arrived. Snatched hours with my flute kept my dream alive. When I played, I could hear the full orchestra filling the concert hall while my descant line soared. Sometimes the imaginary music even drowned out the gremlins in my brain that murmured, "Past her prime. Not enough experience. Too late now."
The hour of playing flew by, and all too soon my progression of Friday students began. I cajoled, coached, and criticized. With each student's clumsy phrasing or ham-handed technique, I reminded myself that I had chosen this life.
No, I hadn't exactly chosen this, but it had been the best alternative I could come up with at the time.
* * *
On Saturday afternoon I was more than ready to escape my students and play some music—even if it was for a church basement wedding reception. Lena's van pulled into the parking lot right behind me. I helped her unload and tow her custom hand truck into the church and onto a service elevator.
"Whenever the flute drives me crazy, I thank my lucky stars I don't play a harp." I panted as we pushed the mammoth instrument down the basement hallway.
Lena giggled. "Yeah, and how come you don't see any burly men playing harp? It's not fair."
In contrast to my fireplug physique, she was rail thin, but she carried her long limbs with grace—a grace that vibrated from her when her hands touched the harp strings.
We passed through double doors and into a carpeted church hall. White tablecloths and hundreds of tiny votive candles erased the feeling of being in a humble basement. White covers with satin ribbons camouflaged the folding chairs. Lena directed me to the corner where we'd provide another elegant touch with our harp and flute duets. She happily set up her music.
Lena and I had been roommates at Juilliard, but she'd done everything in the right order. She graduated, built her career, and then married and had children. Now she had a steady job with the Minneapolis Symphony whenever they performed pieces that required a harp. Her husband could watch the kids when she had evening concerts.
Did Lena know she was living my life? The life I was supposed to have?
Unaware of the pangs of envy I was experiencing, she coaxed the cover off her harp, giving a small sigh of pleasure as her instrument was revealed. I wondered if she smiled at her husband, Ken, with the same adoration. Probably. She'd left her position with the Dallas Symphony when he was transferred to Minnesota. Of course it had helped that Clara and I lived in Minneapolis, and it didn't take her long to land a plum job here, as well.
I unslung my music bag from my shoulders and lifted out my flute case.
Lena plucked a string. "Amy?"
"Hmm?" I unpacked my portfolio of sheet music and frowned. "Are you sure we have to play the Canon in D?" If I never had to play that old chestnut again, it would be too soon.
I glanced her way and then continued adjusting my music stand. "What?"
"I'm trying to tell you—"
"Hey, let's do the Galway arrangement of 'Ashokan Farewell,' okay?"
I plopped my heavy folder onto the stand and stared at her. "What is it?"
She clasped her hands together and stood stiffly, as if about to make a pronouncement. "Cheryl Stinson is moving to Boston."
I wrinkled my forehead. Where had I heard that name? "Cheryl? The flutist?"
Lena's smile nearly glowed. "The very same."
My knees suddenly went limp, and I sank onto my chair.
So the rumors were true! It had been two years since a position had opened up in the symphony's flute section. Back then, I didn't think Clara was ready for me to take on such a demanding job. And government cuts to arts grants made it an unreliable income. I couldn't risk giving up my students to follow my dreams.
But now ...
I felt dizzy and realized I'd stopped breathing. I pulled in a lungful of oxygen and met Lena's eyes. "When are auditions?"
"They're doing an open call next Saturday."
"One week! I'll never be ready in time."
Lena reached over and tousled the chopped lengths of my hair. "You've been ready for a long time."
I turned away to hide the emotion that swelled until I felt like I would choke. One week. I had one week to find out if my dreams were too far buried to revive.
Symphony of Secrets by Sharon Hinck
Copyright © 2008; ISBN 9780764202827
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.