Dead in D Minor
“The novel is an exercise in the comic style, defying disbelief. To his credit, Crossman brings it off nicely. Albert is clearly a survivor, likely to be heard from again.” Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Crossman…creates an offbeat, sympathetic sleuth who meanders innocently through this tale like a lamb through a pack of wolves. Bravo. Encore! Publishers Weekly
In grade school when one of Albert’s teachers had said “everybody’s special,” a classmate quipped, “Albert’s terminally special.” He was probably right. Albert had never felt at home in the world; he didn’t know why people did what they did, or thought what they thought, or were the way they were. And talking to them only made things worse. Not that he really ever noticed . . . until they started killing each other all around him. Suddenly, he had to understand, because one of the people they were trying to kill, was him.
Dead in D Minor
by David A. Crossman
ooooAlbert was not fit for a life of crime.
ooooHe’d stolen a cigarette from the large lady beside him while she was asleep. By two o’clock in the morning he and the bus driver were the only ones awake. He snuck into the rest room and smoked it.
ooooThe large lady was awake, going through her purse. She must be suspicious. The insidious worm of guilt was eating away at his insides in large bites … chewing with its mouth open. What if she counted her cigarettes and found one missing? She’d tell everyone.
ooooSweat stood out on Albert's forehead and he entertained the notion of jumping out the window. Hitting the pavement at a fairly high rate of speed would probably be preferable to the mental anguish he was going through.
ooooFortunately the bus came to a stop. Albert took a crumpled brown paper bag from the seatback pocket in front of him, stuffed it in his coat and got out.
oooo“I need to get some cigarettes,” he told the driver as he stepped into a shallow puddle. Wet feet were nothing new to Albert. Everything else was.
ooooIt was early in the morning. A strong smell of damp nature … mingled with the diesel exhaust. The hills surrounding the small town were dressed in the promise of green, and a row of trees in big wooden pots lined the sidewalk, bursting with flowers, alternately pink and white. It must be spring.
ooooIt had been spring when he left New England, too. There had been a lot of mud and pussywillows. Otherwise it was hard to tell.
ooooHe opened the screen door of the restaurant that doubled as the bus stop. The place was full of people and they were all smoking. Heaven.
oooo“What can I do for you, darlin’?” said a blonde lady behind the counter. She was wearing a little white and blue hat with points on it and had the biggest, bluest eyes Albert had ever seen. He turned around to see who she was talking to. There was nobody there.
oooo“I’m talkin’ to you, sweetcakes,” she said.
ooooShe didn't know his name. The disguise was working.
ooooIt had gotten a lot quieter and people were staring at him over their coffee cups. They were smiling. People often smiled at Albert. Some even laughed outright.
ooooHe smiled back.
oooo"Coffee?" said the waitress, as she poured him a cup. "Do you good after a long trip. From Boston, huh?"
ooooShe was psychic.
ooooShe leaned on the counter and smiled the biggest, warmest, most welcoming smile he'd ever seen. Albert took the cup and drank heartily, scanning the inhabitants hastily as he did so. He felt himself being absorbed. What if they found out about the cigarette? It looked as if they expected as much of him.
ooooThe waitress reached up and flipped the little tag that was attached to his coat button. "Boston to Atlanta," she said. "Most people put these things on their luggage." Then the impossible happened, her smile grew bigger still, and caught fire in her eyes.
ooooHer voice made him think of honey with champagne in it, and her accent was rich, thick and southern. Northern Georgia, probably.
ooooShe straightened up and presented Albert with other points of interest that dwarfed both her eyes and her smile. He tried not to stare, but he blushed from head to toe. He forgot to swallow for a moment and some coffee dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. "Why don't you sit down, before you hurt yourself," she suggested. He did so, and she reached out and dabbed his chin with a wet cloth. Some truck drivers giggled in a corner booth.
ooooAlbert had found a happy place.
oooo"Just passin' through," said the waitress whose name, if the little red and white tag on her blouse could be trusted, was Cindy, "or do you have time for some breakfast?"
oooo"I was just," Albert began, looking out the door, "I came in to get some cig … " Just then the large lady stepped off the bus and herded herself across the sidewalk. "Eggs, please," said Albert.
oooo"Oh … " Cindy replied. "I thought you were going to ask for cigarettes."
oooo“No," said Albert immediately. "I quit."
ooooFortunately she didn't ask when. "Good for you!" She took a pad from her apron pocket. "How do you like 'em?"
oooo"Regular," said Albert. "Without filters."
ooooThe large lady was standing in the aisle near the door, studying postcards in a white metal rack. Her brows were knit, whether in anger or concentration he couldn't tell. Better safe: assume the worst.
oooo"No, I mean your eggs," said Cindy. "How do you like 'em cooked?"
ooooAlbert couldn't remember liking eggs at all, in particular. It had just popped out. "What kind do you have?"
ooooHalf of Cindy's smile and the corresponding eyebrow collapsed. Men had put her on before.
"The kind we have are still in the shell, hon'," she said, a little sarcastically.
oooo"Whatever's easiest," said Albert. He was perplexed by her change in attitude. "Just … whatever's easiest … for you."
ooooCindy studied him for a minute. He was wearing the brown felt hat Mrs. Bridges at the bank had given him just before he left Ashburn. The earflaps stood straight out on both sides. He had a full beard, the result of not having shaved in over a week, and his thick, horn-rimmed glasses were fogging over with steam from the coffee. The ensemble was dramatically concluded by a new olive green snow jacket with matching hood, mustard colored corduroy pants and wool-lined L.L. Bean boots, also procured by Mrs. Bridges. She hadn't known he was going south.
ooooNeither had he, for that matter. That's just where the next bus out was going.
ooooEveryone else in the restaurant was wearing short sleeves or T-shirts except one man who wore a seersucker suit, the same material Albert’s mother used to wear back in Maine, when she went berrying on the hill behind the barn.
ooooThe smile returned to Cindy's face. "How about scrambled?"
oooo"Eggs?" said Albert. He wanted to be sure.
ooooCindy turned away and dabbed at her eyes with the same cloth she'd employed on Albert's chin. There was a bond between them. "Joey!" she said to the tall, thin black man in the kitchen. "Scrambled, grits, hash browns and a slab of country ham."
ooooShe turned back to him. Her eyes were still watery, but apparently she'd taken care of whatever was in them. "Take a seat right here, hon," she said, indicating the stool between them. "It'll be ready in a shake."
ooooAlbert looked out the window. The bus was still there.
oooo"You've got plenty of time," said Cindy. "They're refueling. Be fifteen minutes, anyway."
ooooAlbert nodded; the universal language.
oooo"What's your name?"
ooooHis name was Albert, but if anyone was looking for him, that's who they'd ask for, wouldn't they? "Most people call me 'Professor'," said Albert. True enough.
oooo"Professor, huh?" said Cindy. "You're a teacher?"
ooooWell, yes … he was.
oooo"What do you teach?"
oooo"Music," said Albert, talking too quickly and thinking to slowly to come up with anything but the truth.
oooo"You mean, like a piano teacher?" Cindy asked with interest.
ooooPiano teacher? Amazing how people could add one and two and come up with 'c'. Piano teacher. He liked that. Out here in the world … he could be anything he wanted to be. He nodded.
oooo"Too bad you ain't stayin' around. You could teach my Maylene to play the piano. You think you could? She's retarded, but she loves to sit there and plunk at the piano in the parlor. Like to drive folks crazy with it. But it keeps her happy, you know? If you could teach her to play just a song … Comin' Round the Mountain' or Old Rugged Cross … that'd be a miracle."
ooooIt would be two miracles; Albert didn’t know those songs.
oooo"Well, maybe they ain't popular up north," Cindy suggested. "But you know. Somethin' simple that everybody knows."
ooooAlbert didn't know what everyone else knows. He'd stayed home from school that day. Nevertheless, there was something oddly appealing about the idea of teaching someone to play the piano. And she was retarded. They'd probably hit it off. However …
oooo"I don't think … " he said.
ooooCindy tossed a glance at some men farther down the counter. "What all are you lookin' at?" she said. "Eat your breakfast or I'll call your wives."
ooooThe sound of cutlery filled the land.
oooo"I was just talkin' out loud," said Cindy. "You know how it is. That's my trouble. As soon as I think somethin', I say it. Blab! There it is, just like a drunk's lunch."
ooooThe black man in a cook’s hat rang a little bell and she turned to fetch Albert's breakfast from the counter. She put it in front of him and he stared at it. "There you go," said Cindy. "Put some meat on your bones."
ooooIn recent months Albert had become aware of a curious female tendency to want to see meat on his bones. The same trait exhibited by the witch in Hansel & Gretel; a troubled person.
oooo"Where you headed? I mean, just Atlanta, or you goin' on from there?"
ooooAlbert took the ticket from his inside coat pocket to make sure. "Atlanta," he read. "Atlanta," he replied.
oooo"Hot-lanta, we call it," said Cindy with a smile in which there was something Albert had never seen before. Whatever it was made him shift in his seat. He took a bite of the eggs and poked at the little pile of shredded potatoes.
oooo"Hot-lanta," Albert corrected. It was going to take him a while to learn the language.
oooo"That’s country ham. You eat it ‘fore it gets cold," said Cindy, turning his plate until the object in question was pointed at him. "What're you going to do there?"
ooooAlbert shrugged. The ham was very salty and chewy. He liked it.
ooooAlbert shrugged and swallowed.
oooo"You have friends there?"
ooooAs far as he knew, she was the closest thing he had to a friend in the world, she and Jeremy Ash. He shrugged and took a sip of coffee. "No," he said.
oooo"Well, if you don't know nobody and you've got nothing to go for, you should just stay here and teach piano!" Cindy suggested. Some people looked up from their papers.
oooo"That's how I come here, you know. Me and Maylene was drivin' through town one day … guess you could say we was runnin' away. I'm from Georgia, originally." Albert thought she was from northern Georgia. He was usually good with accents. "Northern Georgia," she added. He was right. "Anyhow, we come in here and I saw they needed help. Here I am!
oooo"That very day Rudy Tatum hired me … I waitressed at The Clock back home when I was in high school.
oooo"Then I got a room at Miz Grandy's. She owns the boarding house where we live. She took to Maylene just like that." She snapped her fingers. "Been there over four years now, ‘cept for a few months when I went off to Asheville half crazy." Her eyes washed over him with a distant sadness. “Loneliness can make you do strange things.” She smiled and looked around the room. “Good town," she said. "Good people. I think you'd like it here. Wouldn't you like to take off your hat?"
ooooAlbert took off his hat. His hair was greasy after the long bus ride, and what wasn't matted to his head was pointing straight up. Cindy laughed. "Too bad them buses ain't got showers, ain't it?"
ooooA shower would be nice. He was very hot, come to think of it.
oooo"It's hotter in Altanta," said Cindy, reading his mind. "And you ain't exactly dressed for it."
ooooHe'd left in a hurry. People were looking for him. Not that it mattered. Even if he'd had all the time in the world, he wouldn't have thought about assembling a cooler wardrobe. Things like that didn't occur to Albert. Miss Bjork and Tewksbury were the kind of people who thought that way. They were planners. But they were dead, so it hadn't helped them.
ooooThat was another story. His manager, Huffy, was like that, too. He was still alive; at least he had been two days ago. Huffy was with William Morris – whoever he was – and Albert hoped he would stay there. He wanted to be alone. At least, alone from anyone who knew him.
ooooThe large lady left and boarded the bus. Albert couldn't imagine resuming his seat beside her, reeking, as he did, of guilt and cigarette smoke. "Maybe I will stay a while," he said. "A day or two."
oooo"You're kidding!" said Cindy. "Just like that?"
ooooAlbert smiled. "Just like that," he said softly.
oooo"You better go get your luggage off the bus," Cindy suggested. "Hiram! Go tell 'em to hold the bus a minute, will you?"
ooooHiram, a wiry man of advanced years, had been inspecting a rack of car air freshners near the door. He couldn't decide between Miss July and Miss October, so a break would do him good. He opened the screen door and yelled at the bus driver just as he was about to get aboard.
oooo"I don't have any luggage," said Albert. "Just this." He removed the brown paper bag that held his socks, underwear and maps from his coat pocket. Albert was fastidious in the matter of underwear, and maps were his security blankets, his teddy bear, done up in a dog-eared little bundle held together with rubber bands. He may not know his own place in the world … but he knew where everything else belonged.
ooooCindy stared at him. "None?" she said flatly. "None at all? An overnight bag … or a shaving … no, I guess not." A thought squatted on her eyebrows. "You have money, don't you?"
oooo"Yes," Albert said. Mrs. Bridges had given him five hundred dollars in cash … ten in quarters. He removed his new wallet from his coat and opened it.
oooo"I wasn't asking for proof!" said Cindy, "I didn't mean to … put that away." He did. "It's just that … I'm the kind of person people take advantage of, you know? All the stray dogs and cats end up at my house. And I've drug home more losers that you could shake a stick at … which is just what I should've done to most of 'em.
oooo"Hiram," she yelled at Hiram, who had resumed his place at the air freshener stand. "Tell him to go on, this fella's staying."
ooooApparently Hiram had been on the verge of making a decision, and did not brook this intrusion with his customary élan. Nevertheless, he obeyed. A moment later the bus was on its way to Atlanta, lighter by an Albert and one cigarette … not to mention a load of guilt that would have flattened the tires of a lesser vehicle.
oooo"Why don't you go get yourself some clothes over at Gifford's when they open?" said Cindy. She'd simply been talking to pass the time of day with a new face. Now he'd gone and stayed, all because of her. She should know better. Now he was her fault. Another abandoned puppy.
oooo"Miz Grandy has a room I bet she’d let you have … at least for a night or two. You can start right in on them lessons with Maylene. How much do you charge?"
oooo"Charge?" This, as far as Albert knew, was something goats did. His mother had had a goat once on their farm. It charged at every opportunity. What this had to do with Maylene and piano lessons, he couldn't fathom.
"I don't know what you usually get," Maylene considered, negotiating with herself, "but I know what I can afford, and that's about six dollars an hour. How's that? Fair?"
oooo"You want to pay me six dollars to teach your daughter … "
oooo"Maylene … to play piano?"
oooo"Six dollars an hour. I might could go seven, but not more than twice a week. 'Course, providin' you decide to stay a while. Leastwise, you could get a couple lessons in, teach her something simple. Twinkle Little Star or My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.” Albert's heart lept. He knew that one, his sister used to sing it. Kizmet. "I mean, I don't expect she'll ever be no what's-his-name … Andrew Carnegie or whatever. Somethin' simple she can play and be proud of is all."
oooo"I'd like that," said Albert, who would.
oooo"Six dollars is okay then?" said Cindy. "Or seven? You tell me. I want to be fair."
ooooIt had been Albert's experience that money caused complications. The less the better. "Six," he said.
oooo"Good!" Cindy responded enthusiastically, patting Albert's hands. They were soft, like you'd expect of a piano player. Cold, too, indicating a warm heart. She liked that. "Real good," she said. "I'll write a note to Miz Grandy you can take up there." She wrote as she spoke. "Here's the address; Croft Street. It's that road beside the library over there, see? That big brick building with the columns?" Albert regarded the building in question and nodded. "You go down there and take your first right, then it’s four houses down on the left. You give this to Miz Grandy and see if she don't give you a room. Okay, hon?" She handed him the note and leaned on the counter staring at him. Her eyes were whirlpools … and Albert a drowning man. "You'll like it up there. It's clean and pretty. Food's good … and she don't allow smokin' in the house. You'll appreciate that."
ooooIt was hell.
oooo"And maybe while you're at it you can help us with our little murder in your spare time." She smiled.
ooooThe word stunned Albert, much the way he'd seen a duck stunned by a falling piano in a cartoon recently. "Murder?" he said.
"Mm!" said Cindy, warming to her subject as she refilled his coffee. "Night before last they found Ry Antrim dead. Heather did, that is. She’s his niece over from England. He was the judge … owned the bank, too."
"Maybe he had a heart attack," Albert hoped aloud. He'd heard of people dying of heart attacks.
"Maybe," said Cindy. "But the Bowie knife they took out of his chest probably had something to do with it, too. Happened right next door to Miz Grandy's."
ooooAlbert's legs got fuzzy. Fortunately he was sitting down.
oooo"Hey!" said a fat, red-faced man three stools down as Cindy snatched the newspaper from his hands. "I was readin' that!"
oooo"Who you kiddin', Roz?" said Cindy with a smile. "You was just lookin' at the pictures."
ooooEveryone laughed. "Eat your hash browns ‘fore they get cold," she commanded. Roscoe got redder, then he started to laugh and turned his attention to his breakfast. It wouldn't do to get on Cindy's wrong side. He knew men who'd been banned from the restaurant for up to three weeks for turning her the wrong way. And, lets face it, while the food was good, it wasn't the reason the place was packed morning after morning. Rudy Tatum knew that, which explained why Cindy was the best-paid waitress between Greenville and Asheville.
oooo"There," she said, folding the day-old paper so the top half of the front page was prominently displayed and thrusting it in front of Albert.
ooooThe only thing Albert hated more than newspapers was television. Evil was enhanced by their existence. This was the Asheville Sentinel. He read the headline: ‘Judge Stabbed to Death.’
ooooAlbert's head was spinning. He'd fled New England because of murder. Now, half way through his first breakfast in a new town, it confronted him again.
ooooMurder, murder everywhere.
ooooHe took out his wallet, put some money on the counter and stumbled toward the door.
ooooOutside, he stood where the bus would have been had it not left without him. It was long gone. The dust had settled.
oooo“Hey, Sweetheart,” said Cindy from the doorway. She held the screen door open to let the flies in. “I like a tip as much as the next girl, but this is a little much, don’t you think?”
ooooAlbert stared alternately at Cindy and the bus that wasn’t there. He stumbled back to the sidewalk. “Someone I know was … murdered,” he said softly. “Two people.”
oooo“Oh dear,” said Cindy. She tucked the twenty dollar bill into his coat pocket, took him gently by the elbow and guided him to a bench at the bottom of a little grassy area beside the restaurant. They sat down. “Up north?”
oooo“And you come down here to get away from all that?”
ooooTears were flowing freely down Albert’s cheeks. He nodded. She draped her arm over his shoulder. “See? There I go. Sayin’ the wrong thing again. Happens every time.
oooo“Come on,” she resolved after a space of silence. “I’m going to take you up to Miz Grandy’s myself.” She pulled him to his feet and balanced him there while she went to the restaurant and opened the door with her hip.
oooo“Hiram,” she said, just as Hiram had made his decision. “Tell Rudy I’ll be back in fifteen minutes, hon. And put that girlie thing down and get one of them little tree-shaped ones or I’ll tell Pastor Henry.” The door slammed shut. Albert had no doubt that Hiram had put down the girlie one. Whatever it was.
ooooThey had crossed the street, passed the library and turned down Croft Street before Albert knew which way was up. The narrow lane was bordered by red brick sidewalks. Huge trees, underdressed with small green-yellow leaves, arched overhead, creating a tunnel of spring and silence. Large houses stood back from the road and apart from one another with their noses in the air. “There’s the house where it happened,” said Cindy softly, as if lower volume would round the hurtful edges off the words. She pointed at a very large wooden house to their left. It wasn’t a simple house with clean lines like his mother’s farmhouse in Maine. It was craggy and ornate, with towers, porches and scrolly iron work along the roofs and stuck in the corners like cobwebs. It was painted light gray, with white trim. Or off-white. Or cream colored. It was hard to tell in the golden light of morning. Maybe pink. A wide sidewalk, trimmed with ancient dogwoods, led to the front porch.
oooo“Poor old fella. Can’t figure why anybody’d want to do him like that,” Cindy continued, becoming more animated as they walked on. “Robbery, most folks figure. He was rich as an ex-senator. I figure he walked in on somebody who was stealin’ something and … ” She drove an imaginary knife between her breasts. Presumably it had a very long blade. “Not that there’s many burglaries around here. Been only one, I know of, since me and Maylene got here. It’s a good, peaceful town,” she explained. “Not like up north.”
ooooCindy was sensitive to Albert’s discomfort. “Oh, I’m sorry. There I go again. Was either one of yours done like that? With a knife?”
ooooAlbert shook his head and swallowed hard.
oooo“Well, let’s talk about something else,” Cindy suggested. “Gun?”
oooo“Was they … ‘scuse me, Miz Grandy’s trying to get me to talk properly … were they shot? Those people of yours?”
ooooAlbert’s idea of talking about something else had very little in common with Cindy’s. “One,” he said flatly. His eyes pled for mercy. “The other was … died in a fire.”
oooo“Somebody set ‘em on fire!” Cindy exclaimed, her eyes widening.
ooooAlbert nodded. “The house.”
oooo“Shoot!” said Cindy, breathlessly. “It’s like that up there though, ain’t it? Happens all the time. You see it on the news. Here we are.”
ooooThe house to which she led him was a lot like its neighbor, though built of brick, and cheerier. Albert had difficulty with colors beyond those in the primary group … apparently there was a point at which pale blue became light gray and red became orange, and he could never tell which was which and when it wasn’t. It was probably some of those colors. It wasn’t green or white or brown. Actually, it wasn’t much like its neighbor.
ooooThere were narrow little spots of garden along the sidewalk and against the house, sewn to the landscape like elbow patches. They were full of tall yellow flowers that looked like upside-down bells. Pretty.
oooo“That’s her over there,” said Cindy, indicating a lady who was hanging sheets in the side yard. She was even bigger than the large lady on the bus. They were probably related. Albert’s guilt increased commensurately. Cindy took him by the elbow again and directed him off the walk, over the daffodils and across the lawn. Albert went obligingly withersoever she listeth.
oooo“Sarah!” she called. “You’re gonna love Miz G. Cook? Can she ever! Honey … Sarah, put that down and come meet the Professor. Professor, Sarah.”
ooooA sheet separated Albert from Miz Grandy. She tugged the clothesline down under her chin and lobbed a grenade of inspection at Albert. “What have you brought home now, girl?” she said slowly. Her diction was excellent. Her accent, though genuinely southern, was exaggerated. Western South Carolina.
oooo“Now, you be good, Miz G. He just got to town and needs a place to stay.” Cindy winked at Albert. Albert made a little bow from the chest up. He would have tipped his hat, but he was holding it in his hands. He waved it. “He’s from up north.”
“You don’t say?” Miz G replied flatly. “I’d’ve never guessed.”
oooo“Massachusetts,” said Albert, feeling it was time he contributed to the conversation. “I was born in Maine, though.” He handed her Cindy’s note. It would explain everything. After she read it, she smiled an odd smile and tucked it in her apron pocket.
oooo“Maine, is it?” she said. “Well, I’m sure they mourn the loss.” Her eyes warmed a little through her glasses. “Aren’t you hot in those clothes?”
ooooYes, he was. “I told him to go down to Gifford’s when they open … get him somethin’ sensible,” said Cindy.
oooo“Purchase some more appropriate attire, Cindy. English is a vast and expressive language. You should try it.” Miz Grandy winked at Albert. There was a lot of winking going on. Maybe it was something in the air. “How long do you intend to stay in Tryon, Mr … ?”
oooo“Professor,” said Albert. “Everyone calls me that.”
oooo“He teaches piano,” Cindy rejoined enthusiastically. “He’s going to teach Maylene how to play something everybody can sing to.”
ooooAlbert didn’t remember agreeing to that part.
oooo“Piano?” said Miz Grandy. “Well, it would be worth the price of admission if you could teach that child to play something. Anything.” She finished hanging the sheets, picked up her laundry basket and, slipping her substantial arm through his, guided Albert to the house.
oooo“I’m goin’ on back to Rudy’s,” Cindy called. She was already half-way across the lawn. “See you at supper!”
oooo“Dinner!” Miz Grandy called. “How many times do I have to tell you, girl?”
ooooCindy’s laughter trailed after her as she jogged down the sidewalk. Her hair bounced behind her, tangling in the sunlight. Five months earlier Albert wouldn’t have noticed. His horizons had broadened.
oooo“I love her like a daughter,” said Miz Grandy, inclining her head confidentially toward Albert as she guided him up the steps, “but The Noble Prize Committee isn’t exactly tracking her down to give her the Prize, if you know what I mean.”
ooooAlbert would gladly give her his. Of course, finding it could be a problem. He hadn’t seen it since the police redecorated his apartment.
oooo“I don’t mean to be indelicate, Professor,” continued Miz Grandy as they came to a stop before the front door, “but … you will be a paying guest?”
oooo“Yes,” said Albert. He wasn’t sure if he should show her his wallet. He reached for it. “Do you want some money now?”
oooo“Oh, that’s hardly necessary,” Miz Grandy replied with a gentle wave of her hand. “It’s just that Cindy is just one of those girls who’s disposed toward riff-raff.” She laughed. “Present company excepted, of course.” She opened the door, motioned for Albert to enter and followed him inside.
Toooohey entered a cool, dark hallway inhabited by the pleasant smell of things cooking. Albert rotated the hat in his hands.
oooo“Make yourself at home while I go check the stew,” said Miz Grandy.
ooooThat would be impossible. This was nothing like home. You could see the floor. The lightbulbs worked. There was furniture.
oooo“You don’t smoke, do you?” Miz Grandy said, stopping in a doorway at the end of the hall. She tilted her head to its severe setting and screwed his conscience with a glance over the top of her glasses.
ooooWhat could he say? He certainly wasn’t smoking at the moment. “No.” His experience with the law had taught him something of the fine art of prevarication.
ooooHe’d come to town a thief and now, less than half an hour later, he’d compounded the offense by lying. Twice. Guilt must be gaseous. It seemed to be expanding inside him, screaming to be let out and proclaimed loudly from the housetops in numerous languages and dialects. How much longer could he maintain the deception?
ooooOf course, it was the same lie in both instances. Maybe that only counted as one. Miss Bjork would have known. His heart skipped a beat. It had been doing that a lot lately.
oooo“Good,” Miz Grandy said. She went into the kitchen, but kept talking. “The late Mr. Grandy … my husband … died of lung cancer.”
ooooAlbert looked around, observing every detail carefully. There was a staircase made of wood with a carpet down the middle of it. The carpet was dark … purple or navy blue probably … and had flowers or fruit on it. It was held in place by brass bars at the intersection of each step which, in turn, were held in place by tiny rings at each end.
ooooHe turned his attention elsewhere. A large grandfather clock stood in the corner by the door. His mother had had one of those. Its golden pendulum was swinging lazily back and forth, knocking aside the seconds like dominoes.
oooo“Slow, painful death,” said Miz Grandy, just in time. Had she waited another minute she’d have returned to find Albert rooted to the spot, hypnotized. He looked away from the pendulum.
ooooThe wooden floor was highly polished and covered with small rugs with tassels along the edges. There was a room to the left with a fireplace and a television, big soft chairs and two sofas and a room on the right with a piano. He didn’t notice anything else.
“All for the sake of cigarettes,” said Miz Grandy as she returned from the kitchen. She’d been talking steadily, but these were the first words to penetrate Albert’s consciousness in a while. “But would he stop? Not for me or the Emperor of China,” she continued.
ooooCigarettes. Had the late Mr. Grandy died his slow, painful death after inhaling the last one, or did he leave some behind? There was a little silver case in the middle of a doily on a coffee table in the room to his left. You never know.
oooo“Come on, Professor,” said Miz Grandy, interrupting Albert’s precipitous descent into the gluttonous maw of crime. “I’ll show you your room.” Albert followed; up the short flight of steps to the landing, turn right, up another flight to a big open hallway lined with doors. “Here’s the linen closet,” she tapped on the door directly across from the top of the stairs. “Get yourself a couple of towels and a washcloth and when they’re dirty, just toss ‘em into the hamper. Here’s the bathroom,” she continued, pushing open a door on the right, revealing a large, bright room with a big, old-fashioned bathtub, freestanding sink, and a toilet with a water tank and a pull-chain. These things were familiar from his childhood. Even the claw feet on the tub. He’d forgotten there were bathrooms without urinals. His at home didn’t have one, come to think of it; not that he noticed.
ooooFurther down the hall, Sarah held her finger to her lips, “This is Cindy and Maylene’s room,” she said in a whisper. “Maylene’s taking her nap. She’ll be up in fifteen or twenty minutes.”
ooooSarah’s voice grew louder with each step beyond Maylene’s door until, by the time they reached the end of the hall, it was back up to its customary volume. “Here we go,” she said, pushing wide a door that already stood halfway open. She gestured for Albert to enter. He did.
In Massachusetts Albert’s bed was, aside from random islands of floor here and there, the only horizontal surface left in his apartment. Ashtrays, beer cans, half-empty coffee-cups, various musical instruments and sheet music comprised the remainder of the decor. A three-dimensional representation of his brain. The one concession to art was a little plaster bust of somebody with long hair and a pointy beard whose name he could never remember. Some students had given it to him.
ooooThere were other rooms, too. But he never went in them. One was bad enough. He guessed Jeremy Ash and Mrs. Gibson would take over the rest. He wished them luck.
ooooThe room into which Miz Grandy showed him had walls, like his, but there the similarities ended. It had wallpaper with flowers on it. There was a light gray wall-to-wall carpet and a big bush or tree in a brass pot in the corner. The bed had a headboard and footboard. It was off the floor. This was going to take getting used to. Cigarette burns would stand out. Beer stains would be noticed. Albert had lately heard the term ‘mid-life crisis’. That must be what this was.
oooo“There’s a wash basin on the dresser,” Miz Grandy continued automatically. She’d done this before. It was a first time for Albert. “And a Gideon Bible in the bedside table. The late Mr. Grandy was a Gideon. He got a case of Bibles below wholesale. Misprints. They’re all missing Deuteronomy.” She crossed to the window and drew the sheer curtains aside. “He was going to give them to the church, but Pastor Henry wouldn’t here of it. Had to have his Deuteronomy.
oooo“This window opens all right, but the counterweight’s broken, so use this stick to prop it up.” She held up a stick that was kept on the sill. “Last fellow we had in here was almost decapitated one time when he was looking out the window. So don’t forget.” As she spoke she searched the backyard closely.
ooooThere was an odd scent lingering in the room. Albert sniffed.
oooo“That’s garlic, I’m afraid,” Sarah apologized. “At least, that’s what it smells like, though it can’t be, really. I love it myself, but poor Commander Beecham has a terrible time with it, so I just don’t use it.” She patted her stomach. “He’s one of my lodgers. You’ll meet him later. Must come from something in the ground. I swear, I can’t figure it out. Smells of sulphur sometimes, too. Something burning. Scared me half to death the first few times I noticed it. I thought the place was going to burn down around our ears.
oooo“It didn’t, though. So don’t let it worry you.
oooo“That’s where I saw him the other night,” she said, almost without breathing. “I supposed Cindy told you.”
oooo“I don’t … I’m afraid … ” Albert felt he had missed something.
oooo“No need to be,” Miz Grandy continued with a chortle. “It won’t happen again. He ran right across Ry Antrim’s back yard, jumped over the fence out there by the hydrangea bush, see? and into the woods that go down to the river.
oooo“I didn’t think a whole lot of it, at the time, mind you,” she continued. “I was just cleaning up after Stocky Hubbard moved out.” She lowered her voice and inclined her head toward him. “He found a trailer for rent down in Cleveland Hollow … just in time, too. Looks like Providence was making way for you.”
ooooProvidence was in Rhode Island.
ooooAlbert was so confused he almost forgot about cigarettes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not … I don’t … “
oooo“I give elocution lessons, if you want to get rid of that stammer,” Miz Grandy volunteered. “Fifty percent discount for residents.” She let go of the curtain and it fell back in place. “You should have heard Cindy before she started with me. If ever anyone sounded like the last gourd off the turnip truck. Well? How do you like it?”
ooooTry as he might, Albert could attach no meaning to anything Miz Grandy had been saying. He decided that one of them was crazy. Probably he. “I like it,” he said. He wondered what it was they were talking about, and if he really did.
oooo“I still can’t believe it happened, though,” said Miz Grandy. She was fluffing the pillows on the bed. “A murder, right next door! And … just between you, me, and the angels, it looks like our other neighbor’s the culprit.” She pointed at the house to the north.
ooooThere was that word again. Murder. It was following Albert. Haunting him. Already he could feel it sucking at him like tar baby. The harder he pushed, the more securely it held him. It was too late to run.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I hope you’ve read Albert’s first mystery, Requiem for Ashes and are sufficiently intrigued by these sample chapters – and by Albert – to download the rest of Dead in D Minor to your Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone or other reading device for only ninety-nine cents. To do so, simply click here or click the book cover at the top of this page which will take you to Amazon where you can place your order safely and securely. And if you enjoy Dead in D Minor be sure to download the sequel, Coda, which will be available by fall, 2013. Meanwhile, PLEASE Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail everyone you know, tell them how much you love Albert, and send them to http://www.davidcrossman.com!
Thank you. The rest of the story awaits!
David A. Crossman