Strings - Chapter Samples
From Chapter 1
It was over as quickly as it had begun. The damage was done. The sun, vanquished by the brute, returns like a sheepish coward and spooks of steam whisk across the lake. Piles of hail lay in the yard; white ice sparkling in the sun on a carpet of Cariboo green.
The storm rumbles eastward, leaving behind a wake of battered yards strewn with leaves and branches.
When the afternoon’s spell is cast once again Beck takes stock of the garden’s remains. Swallows soar, gulping at the frenzy of insects brought on by the storm. A warbler warbles. A song sparrow calls out a tune in reply. He stands in a patch of flattened beans and the smell of rotting earth roused by melting ice reaches his nostrils. A light wind ripples the lake and ushers away the last of the storm.
Beck is downcast but not because of the ruined crop. It’s all around him—the images, the sounds, the drama—everything that moves him to create. He can hear it and see it and feel it, but he just can’t seem to bring it to life in musical composition as he’s done for so long. Has his passion finally left him? Has it slipped away gradually over these past years, now eluding him completely? Either way he’s been robbed. He has no idea where or how to recover it.
From Chapter 2
Beck is a rower. The next morning he rows his racing shell on the flat water of Lake Michelle, stroking the thin craft toward the far shore across from their home.
His mind is full of questions. People become what they do. If they don’t change what they do nothing else will ever change either. It could have all been over in that storm yesterday. Over before we even gave ourselves a chance to begin again.
His legs pump like pistons as he sends the sleek boat skimming toward the forest on the other side of the water. In the distance great white anvils are lifting into the sky promising trouble later in the day. He has to get out early before the breeze begins to ripple the lake. Squalls spring up suddenly at this time of year and handling a shell in any kind of rough water is difficult and risky.
But on this morning Beck cuts a narrow “V” through the glass of the water’s surface, brushed with floating pollen. The mere hint of a breeze will push the yellow dust toward the downwind shore becoming a golden lining on the blue lake.
He coasts the shell into a small cove where the forest slopes down to the water, stops the boat and drops the oars. He calls this place Cathedral Bay. It’s where he goes for church. Beck looks up at the pillars of spruce and fir, meditating, hoping for some kind of direction to emerge from the calm of the cove. He sits in silence with his thoughts for a few minutes looking deep into the woods.
A squirrel munches on a spruce cone. A curious loon chuckles nearby. The pungent smell of lily pads grace his bobbing pew.
Then there’s another sound, like a clock ticking slowly. He knows that sound all too well; the light splash of dipping oars and the rush of a hull through the water. It stops not far behind him. Without turning he says,
“Morning Buster, nice day for a row.”
“Yup,” says Buster. “Whenever you’re finished with your nap maybe we could work out for a while.”
“Okay, I’ll race you back to my place for coffee.”
“I’ll be waiting for you,” says Buster.
From Chapter 6
After half an hour and many questions about directions that are replied to with blank looks and tentative information at best, Beck stands across the street from Ducherstein’s store.
It would have been a grandiose building anywhere else, in a more modest section of the city or out in wine country. Here the three story structure with the feel of mid-seventeenth century seems rather quaint, with shuttered windows and Baroque signage announcing its presence, shouldered up to a high fashion outlet on one side and an art gallery on the other.
‘Ducherstein Violins’ the sign reads. It certainly looks like Rolf has done well for himself.
It’s approaching five o’clock as Beck turns the antique brass doorknob and enters the store. A flood of aromas strike him—resins and wood, lacquer and the musty smell of a revived old building. There are instruments on display everywhere and they aren’t simply hanging on racks in order of quality and worth the way they do at most brokers. They’re arranged in clusters according to their purpose and maker—a chamber quartet here, a cello section in a symphony orchestra there, student instruments in a semi circle worshipping the stand of a virtuoso at a master’s class. This is no ordinary instrument shop. This is a celebration of the artists, the makers, the professionals who lived the life and the prodigies that aspire to it. The shop is a modern museum with theatre sets attesting to the legitimate place that fine instruments and great musicians have held over centuries of time.
Beck breathes it in. It’s late in the afternoon and the shop is almost empty. Someone is humming. A woman on a wooden stepladder is working on one of the two west facing display windows. She’s hanging blown glass sculptures from the window frame. The bench by the window has a bust of Beethoven on one side and JS Bach on the other, stern and formidable. A replica of an antique scroll lays between them heralding the inventory of instruments available in the store.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” the woman says with a thick eastern European accent, without turning from her work.
“Yes, hello,” says Beck. “I’m looking for Rolf Ducherstein.”
“You don’t say,” she replies, still not turning to look at Beck. “You should have been here a week ago. We’ve been so busy I’m having to work on Sundays just to keep up. At my old age that’s not good for the heart.”
She slowly backs her short round frame down two steps to the floor and rotates to inspect Beck. He’s met by a pair of deep dark eyes that seem to have a light of their own and are the centrepiece of sensational coloured eye shadow and mascara. Her hair is sandy blonde and teased into short wild curls. Her earrings flash in the sunlight from the display window and their reflection flutters across a double bass in the corner. Necklaces spill from under her second chin all the way to her ample bosom and baubles of gemstones on all four fingers of each hand make her stubby digits come alive.
“Don’t just stand there staring like a boob. I should at least hear some apology from you. What have you got to say for yourself? And it better be good. I’ve heard plenty of lame and phoney stories in my time so don’t try to sweet talk me.”
“Pardon me please,” says Beck. “My name is Beckett Trumaine, Beck. I did tell Rolf that I would come and help out in his shop for a while but I also told him that I needed some time to wrap things up at home. I came as soon as I could. Now, may I see him?”
“Because he’s not here. And it’s just like him too to fly off and leave me alone here with all the customers and accounts to see to, not to mention window dressing and babysitting the new worker.”
“I’m sorry to find you so overworked madam. I’ll be happy to pitch in as soon as possible.”
At this she let up and posted a thin purple lipstick smile.
“I am Zola,” she says, holding out her hand. “I am Mr. Ducherstein’s store manager. He owns it. I run it.”
“And what a wonderful store it is,” says Beck. “It’s really a work of art in here.”
“Thank you. In that case you can stay. Here, there’s something here for you.”
Zola, who looks like she’s just climbed off a gypsy caravan goes behind the counter and begins rummaging in a drawer. Beck wonders if she might produce a crystal ball or a deck of tarot cards. Instead she hands him a slip of paper.
“Call this number. He asked me to reserve an apartment for you. I told him that it was a bit of a dump but the price was right and it’s not far from here. The directions are on the back.”
“All right, thanks. When do I get to meet up with Rolf?”
“Go, go and get moved in. Come back tomorrow at ten and meet some of the others in the violin shop. Mr. Ducherstein will be in sometime around noon.”
Beck thanks her and makes his way toward the door.
“So where is your wife?” she asks as he puts his hand on the doorknob.
“Oh, it’s just me for now,” he says. “She’ll join me in a while when I’ve settled in.”
She pauses, “I see. I hope for you that it’s not so long.”
From Chapter 23
On Sunday after their workout at the club Kirsty emerges from the change room wearing tight fitting jeans and a powder blue shirt with the top two buttons undone. Beck notices how her chest heaves her collar bones into view and that the loose shirt barely conceals the power of her arms and shoulders. Her normally straight straw coloured hair is tousled after her shower. Still wet after towelling off, it hangs over her breasts. As she walks toward him she pulls it back and ties it off into her usual pony tail. The heavy workouts are paying off. The regatta is less than a month away. She looks ready.
The weather has warmed up so they sit at a table on the deck overlooking the bay. The persistent chill in the air and the damp of the fog banks that stalk the bay have taken the day off. They sip at their beer, the menus lie flat on the table. There’s no need to look at them. This has become a comfortable habit on Sundays, a closeness, a friendship not to be messed with by temptation. It’s hard for Beck and he knows it must be hard for Kirsty too, harder even. He has Anna’s arms to fall back into soon. Kirsty seems to have no one.
“So tell me about New York,” she says.
“Yeah, okay, you asked for it. Remember those two bows that I took to Henckel’s a ways back?”
Beck goes through the long version of the bow swap and the side trip to Vargas’ shop.
“So, now we know that Henckel’s a crook. But where does the Duke stand in all of this?” she asks.
“Exactly, he labelled those bows for what they are. Vargas made the same call as the Duke. Amazing isn’t it. These guys know their trade so well that they can independently be consistent and precise with their opinions.”
“Doesn’t that make Henckel’s misrepresentation even more obvious?” she asks.
“Yeah, it’s clearly intentional on his part. He’s as good as Vargas and almost as good as the Duke. He knows what those bows really are.
“And, you know what else? These ace brokerages all have websites that advertise their inventory online. They don’t post the price of the really high-end stuff but they do provide descriptions—the name of the builder, the vintage, the location where it was made. They say things like ‘the bow is by Poullot even though it bears the trademark of Bernard’. They say if it has a phoney label. If they don’t and they sell the bow or violin or whatever based on the label, knowing full well that the label is false, they could be sued or charged with fraud because these geniuses do know what they’re doing. No one else could but they know.
“The funny thing is, I went to Henckel’s website to look at his inventory when I got back. The bows don’t show up anywhere. Neither did the Testore bass. Neither did the violin that I dropped off. Apparently, both of those fiddles have buyers so that might be the explanation.”
“Or they want to keep their little secrets to themselves, outside of public scrutiny.”
“Hmm, not bad Kirsty.”
“You’re the one that figured it out Beck. So what now?”
“I don’t know. The Duke is too close to these crooks not to know what’s going on. But I still don’t have anything conclusive on him to say for sure. Maybe that’s it. He does know but otherwise he’s not involved. Besides, it’s not my job to convict the Duke. He’s an old friend and he’s treated me well. I’ve learned a lot from him and the others. He treats us all like family.”
“Beck, if he’s dirty, you’re dirty too.”
They finish their beer in silence.
“I wonder if I should just tow the line until the regatta and head for home like I promised Anna.”
“You promised Anna?”
Kirsty drops her eyes to the table. She knows that it can never be for her and Beck and that one day he’ll return to his Anna. That he will is inevitable. The imminence of this suddenly hits her hard. She bites her lip.
“I don’t think you can Beck.”
“First of all, if for some reason the ship is sinking, you can’t run out on your friends. They need you. You and Zola are a bit alike. Neither of you is going to run from a fight. Then there are a few principles involved. This work connects you to your roots. You’re not going to walk away and let a couple of shysters defame the profession.
“No, uh uh, you’re not going to run from this.”
“That’s not what I thought you were going to say.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t really say too much about what you thought I was going to say can I? It’s okay Beck, it’s okay.”