Chapter 1

A Taste of Erie

I Of all the things Percy Stilwell thought he might do in his life, grave robbing was not one of them. Yet that’s exactly what he now was doing. If Percy didn’t rob the grave, he knew his fate. Next to last chair in the B violin section of the Erie View symphony orchestra. Hugo said he would challenge Percy for his spot at last chair in the A section. Hugo would win. He looked to Percy like a winner. Nineteen year old Hugo Grandier could have been cloned from a Norman Rockwell painting. At half the age of most of the Erie View orchestra musicians, he’d become conductor Maestro Gains golden boy. The Maestro had already begun preparing the way up for golden Hugo.

“Your tone, Percy,” said the conductor all too frequently at rehearsals, “your tone, what’s the matter with your tone? Your instrument does sound like someone is dragging a horse tail over a cat’s guts. At least when you play it, it does.”

Of course the orchestra conductor had that right. Percy’s instrument sounded like something out of an elementary school orchestra. It was something out of an elementary school orchestra. But what could Percy do? It takes no great imagination to picture what kind of instrument a man can afford who makes his living teaching nine year olds to play the violin.

But the world’s a big and varied place. It contained the fabulously wealthy as well poor music teachers. As Percy luck would have it, a nearby eccentric (and now dead) millionaire could afford a very fine violin indeed.

It had made news everywhere. That nearby millionaire, a vineyard owner, a lover of fine wines and fine music, instructed his heirs to bury him with a bottle of 1961 Chateau Lafite Rothschild in one arm and his Stradivarius violin and bow in the other. Having inherited the eccentric gentleman’s exceedingly large fortune, this connoisseur’s heirs could well afford to honor his wishes. So they placed him, as instructed, in a newly constructed family mausoleum overlooking the bay.

Soon after the funeral, Percy took the public ferry to the island where the millionaire had his vineyard and his home. However, unlike most of the other day-trippers from the dry town of Erie View, he immediately headed for the millionaire’s private cemetery rather than to one or more of the bars.

Much to Percy’s relief, he discovered that the term, “private cemetery,” didn’t really describe what he found. “Public family burial site” fit much better. By means of large signs and open gates, the family positively encouraged island tourists to come and admire its creation. Along with a scattering of other tourists, who perhaps expected to find inexpensively priced wine on the family estate, Percy wandered about the cemetery. Eventually he discovered the millionaire’s burial site and the austere stone-lidded sarcophagus containing his body. The


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family had placed it in the center of the unlocked mausoleum.

Upon entering Percy’s heart sank. How would he ever move the lid? Made of solid marble, it must weigh a ton or more. Then it occurred to him. With only about eight feet of clearance between the lid and the ceiling of the six feet wide doorway, depositing the coffin in its stone container couldn’t have involved heavy equipment. So there must be a way to open the end of the sarcophagus facing the door. After other members of the public had wandered off, presumably still searching for low priced wine, Percy found the latch and the rather unimpressive padlock attached to it.

On the first moonless night after the burial, Percy rented a rowboat with an outboard. After rowing as silently as possible until out of earshot of Erie View’s citizens, he gave a hard jerk on the line attached to the outboard motor and set out toward the star rimmed island grave yard with a bag full of tools.

When Percy caught sight of the white foamed tops of the low waves vanishing on the beach, he cut the engine and rowed until the boat struck the sand. Anyone else would have worn a swim suit and perhaps a t-shirt on such a mission. But not Percy. For him a dark suit, a white shirt, black shoes and socks, together with a tie, served for all occasions. With both psoriasis and a skin disease that produced leathery skin, Percy had made it his habit to cover up as completely as possible. He did make one compromise for this mission. He took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants legs and then he stepped into the shallow water to secure the boat. And, oh yes, he hadn’t worn a tie that evening. With the boat securely beached, he reached into it, pulled out his shoes and socks, put them on, hefted the tool bag on his shoulder and headed for the newly constructed mausoleum.

Now, by the light of a small LED flashlight, he stared at the padlock again. He reached into his tool bag and pulled out a small bolt cutter. As he did so, the corners of his mouth lifted just a bit into a knowing smile. He had carefully planned for the consequences of this next action. While contemplating the details of this venture, it seemed obvious that, if anyone noticed that the missing lock, security would come on the run. Once they found the instrument gone, who knows how many different agencies would investigate. Local police, state police, the FBI, the musicians union (!?), all might get involved in the hunt for the thief.

Of course the violinists of the Erie View orchestra would be some of the first people the investigators would question. Perhaps they knew someone, who knew someone who had a violin for sale. Perhaps one of them noticed a violinist who suddenly sounded a whole lot better than usual.

Having run this whole imaginary and discouraging scenario in his head many times, the scenario vanished for $5.25 plus tax. Percy went to the local hardware store where he bought a


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lock that looked very much like the original. He’d take his chances that none of the cemetery caretakers regularly opened the lock and checked the contents of the coffin in the sarcophagus.

It took a great deal of effort to pull that coffin out of the sarcophagus far enough to raise the lid. Among Percy’s many health problems, he had the type of asthma brought on by vigorous exercise. His Celiac disease meant he couldn’t carbo-load before exerting himself. It’s hardly surprising that even before he put in much effort, he began to sweat heavily enough to mat his long, black hair to his neck. His breathing became increasingly rapid.

Back in Erie View these warning signs would have brought him up short, would have had him looking for some place to rest. For one of the few times in his life, he didn’t stop and he didn’t care. If he died trying for that violin, he died. In a life filled with major and minor humiliations, the humiliation of next to last chair in the B section in the Erie View symphony orchestra would probably kill him anyway.

Despite his determination, working the coffin out of its container and onto the small dolly he brought with him, just about exhausted Percy. He had to use his inhaler more than once. Finally he succeeded in prying open the lid. Inside the coffin he first saw the recently departed, holding the wine bottle. He left that treasure undisturbed. Drinking alcohol gave him hives, big red ones all over his body. Then he saw a modern, moisture controlled violin case. Opening that too, Percy found both the violin and the bow in their place. Then he said very quietly to himself,

“Watch out Hugo; you’d better watch out. Do I ever have a surprise for you.”

II For the first twenty-five years of his life, Maestro Gains’s friends called him Felix the cat. His enemies did too. That said, his first job had nothing feline about it. The Maestro conducted a marching band at the local high school. Here a first class football team assured him a large, enthusiastic audience for every band performance, at least for the ones during the football season. Yet in the Maestro’s eyes, bands, especially high school marching bands democratically open to all comers, fell well short of his ultimate goal. He yearned to become a musical director and conductor of an orchestra, one with first class musicians of his own choosing.

The conducting job with Erie View orchestra dropped in the Maestro’s lap unexpectedly. Ten years ago, its long time conductor actually fell over dead in the middle of a performance of the 1812 Overture, right after the second recorded cannon shot came booming over the sound system. In a panic the orchestra board of directors looked about for a nearby musically gifted Methodist who would fit in well at their privately owned resort town of Erie View. On such short notice they could find no one else besides Felix Gains, the local band director.

The newly named maestro did indeed have an orchestra, but he didn’t have first class musicians, at least not many of them. The previous conductor valued loyalty and hard work over talent. He had an orchestra filled with Percy Stilwells. Here’s where the newly minted maestro


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demonstrated he could rouse his old nickname from its long sleep.

Waiting a year - until the board of directors made his appointment permanent - the Maestro introduced contests to determine the first chair in each instrumental section. The next year he extended the challenge system to all chairs. The way the scheme worked, a musician could challenge the person in the next chair up. To avoid the appearance of favoritism, the Maestro, selected a varying group of judges consisting of a board member and a musician. To further enhance the look of impartiality, he had the contestants screened from the judges’s view.

Enter the cat. After both musicians played the same solo piece selected by the Maestro, he expressed his opinion first. Of course the board member seldom had enough confidence or musical knowledge to contradict the conductor. The musician judging knew better than to go against the Maestro’s wishes.

The orchestra members, even the part-time ones, figured out the Maestro’s ploy rather quickly. So, rather than face the humiliation of losing a challenge, many of the less gifted orchestra members resigned. The Maestro’s years in the high school system meant he knew where to find talent. Sometimes he approached former students, sometimes even their musically gifted parents. Talent attracts talent. Hugo Grandier came to the Erie View orchestra because he had a friend in it who played the cello very well.

The Maestro could have put all this new talent at the top right away, but he didn’t. He started them in the lowest chairs. Let them feel as though they earned their place. Let them practice like mad to move up. They had to challenge their way to the top, one Percy Stilwell at a time and in the process sharpen their talents to a razor’s edge.

III The day before each challenge, the Maestro had made it his custom to take the other two judges out to lunch at one of the two restaurants in Erie View. With no alcoholic drinks to sell, the restaurant business did not provide a path to wealth, therefore only two opened up within the town. The restaurant the Maestro chose hoped to attract both the older and younger set. For decoration, it had high school and college banners pinned to every wall. For food it specialized in that universal favorite, pizza , but with unexpected toppings such as french fries. As they contemplated the menu, the Maestro stared across the table at the board member, the Methodist Reverend Wesley Marron and at Grace Wong, the first chair violin.

A couple of years ago, pure coincidence threw the Maestro and the Reverend together at Erie View. They both had attended the same small college, one with a first class music program and a seminary. Wesley had gone on to many parishes and not a few wives. The move to Erie View came when the local Methodist bishop decided that keeping the Reverend Marron in the same parish with his latest ex-wife had many drawbacks and no advantages. So he rusticated the


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musically gifted minister by assigning him to Erie View with its summertime orchestra. The bishop, who rather liked Wesley, hoped that an active music program might provide a distraction from other less spiritual pursuits. The plan got off to a promising start when the Maestro, ever in need of allies on the board of directors, nominated his old friend.

As for Grace, no one could ever accuse the Maestro of making a no-talent affirmative action hire. No, he hired this young second generation Chinese-American woman for her musical talent. Validating his judgement, she had quickly challenged her way up to first chair. The stereotypical Chinese-American, as everyone knows, excels in academics, not music. That meant Grace had to fight the prejudices that existed in many corners of the musical world against both “foreigners” and women. Being attractive did not help. It meant the other musicians took her less seriously.

To overcome these disadvantages, Grace knew she needed to make the most of her talent. She worked with first rate teachers and spent hours and hours in practice. Having reached the first chair, her plan of action had begun to pay off, but only begun. The Erie View orchestra by no means represented the limit of her ambitions. In pursuit of which she had much in common with Felix the cat. Grace looked for advantages wherever she could find them and employed them when needed, and as quietly as possible.

Given Grace’s ability and ambition, the Maestro knew using her as a judge represented something of a gamble. She wasn’t really controllable because she’d put her own interests before anyone else’s. The Maestro hoped Grace would decide that leading a first class A violin section would make her look better. And he had confidence that the contrast between Percy and Hugo would sway her in the desired direction.

“Shall I order for all of us?” asked the Maestro when their pretty, college bound waitress appeared at their table.

“Well, I don’t know,” replied Wesley, “what did you have in mind?” “No thank you, Maestro, I’ll order for myself,” said Grace.

IV “Nice, very nice; we should do it more often,” said Wesley that evening, his right hand still resting on Grace’s breast. “Yes, it was.” Grace rolled over from her back to her side in such a way that she didn’t displace Wesley’s hand. Even leaving aside all other considerations, she liked sex. It pleased her to discover so did he. It also pleased her to discover that both of them enjoyed using their minds as well as bodies. One final fact made them the perfect couple. Neither of them had a long term connection in mind.

“Tomorrow...,” Grace continued. “Tomorrow would be fine.”


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“Let me finish. Tomorrow, how are you going to vote?” “My, my, we are direct, aren’t we? I thought the idea was to listen to them play and then decide.” “Shall I tell you my hope?” “Yes, please.” “For what would probably be the very first time in his whole life, I hope that Percy manages to get his act together and makes voting for him something less than a total embarrassment.” “I admit I have something of a soft spot for Percy. Sometimes he looks as if just living is a full time effort for him. He tries so hard to play from the heart, but he never quite succeeds, at least not so far. So what makes him your favorite?” “All the things you just said plus the fact that Hugo has that lean and hungry look.” “Even if he wins his challenge, it’s a long way and many challenges between last chair A violin and first.” “Who knows what games the Maestro has in mind for his golden boy or what rules he could change. There’s no way I’m moving on to a real orchestra if I’m anything less than first chair in this town’s excuse for one. So can I depend on your vote?” And with that Grace removed Wesley’s hand from her breast, rolled over on her stomach and began kissing his red haired chest, slowly working her way down.

V “Nice, very nice; we should do it more often” said the Maestro, his right hand still resting on Hugo’s hairless, well-oiled chest.

“Glad you liked it.” “About tomorrow. You volunteer to go first.” “Now I’m insulted. Afraid you can’t tell the difference between me and Percy?” “I believe in planning. Percy hearing you play well and having to wait his turn should work in your favor. He might very well fall apart.” “No matter when I play, he’ll fall apart.” “Then again he might rise to the occasion in surprising ways. You need to keep him off balance. Frightened men are dangerous.” “Percy? Dangerous? I don’t think so.” “Does that little piece of over confidence mean you haven’t practiced?’ “I know Beethoven’s 4th inside out and backwards. Perhaps I’ll play it standing on my head, just to give Percy a fighting chance.” “Play first, my darling Hugo, play first.”

VI Inhaler in hand, wheezing, Percy rushed toward the gate and its guardhouse. A city block beyond stood the little market just outside Erie View. The town had none within its heavily fenced perimeter because of the alcohol ban. Like the restaurants, the markets couldn’t make


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much of a profit without it.

Percy had been practicing the 4th all day and lost track of time. He’d forgotten to buy bottled water and almost run out. Given all Percy’s health problems, he’d never even tried to drink the tap water. With the challenge coming up tomorrow, he had no plans to start doing so the evening before. He knew he’d left it for the last minute, and with only five minutes to spare before the market’s closing time, he reached the guard station at the gate, breathless.

Two cars had pulled up just before him. The guard, old, stooped, shuffled out of his hut. A smile looked beyond his capacity. He signaled the driver to put down her window.

“I need to see your passes.” “To leave?” “Of course to leave. How do I know you didn’t sneak here in the middle of the night so you wouldn’t have to pay the entrance fee?” Reluctantly, the woman fished around in the glove compartment and found the passes for herself and her pre-teen daughter, as well as the one for the car.

“Okay, hand them over.” After careful inspection, the barrier went up and the car went through.

As the next car pulled up, Percy reached into the top pocket of his suit jacket and found it empty. The inside jacket pocket, likewise. He began to panic. That’s why he tried to slip through the uplifted gate as the second car went out.

“Where you goin’?” “Just to the store. I’ll be right back.” “You ain’t goin’ nowhere without showin’ me your pass.” “I left it at my place.” “Then you’d better go get it, hadn’t y’?” Someone with more self-confidence than Percy would have kept on walking and then found a way to talk his way back into Erie View after he bought the water. All of Percy’s self-confidence had never amounted to very much, especially now. He needed to preserve his small supply for tomorrow. So he turned around and walked back into Erie View.

VII The auditorium held about two thousand seats. From its cavernous inside it looked like a cross between a cathedral and an overgrown Quonset hut. From its dark painted metal ceiling hung a series of large fans that spun slowly and noiselessly in the cool of the morning. This concert hall had no rehearsal rooms, so the challenge had to take place on stage. A stagehand curtained off an area directly in front of the door used to exit, up stage right. In that little artificial box Percy and Hugo (or Hugo and Percy) would play. For the judges, the stagehand put a table and three chairs, down stage left.


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First the Maestro, then Wesley and Grace came into the auditorium, made their way on stage, greeted each other with smiles (verging on a smirk from the Maestro,) and sat down. The stagehand now lounged about in the first row of the audience seats, playing a game on his phone.

“My good man,” said the Maestro to the stagehand, “we’re ready. Would you please ask the first performer to come out and begin.” The game had gone better than ever for the stagehand. If he stopped now, he’d lose his score. He gave a small sigh, got up and went back stage. Soon after the man disappeared, the sound of footsteps came from behind the curtain and then stopped. The unseen musician had taken his place.

The notes of the quick Presto first movement of Beethoven’s 4th violin sonata in A minor did come out from behind the curtain quickly, perhaps a little too quickly. True the shifts in key from A minor to E minor and back again went smoothly. But later in the movement, the shift from C major to C minor didn’t go nearly as smoothly. Once again the violinist rushed.

Beethoven subtitled the slow Andante second movement “jokingly” and the light touch of this performer showed he mostly got the joke.

The final very fast Allegro molto movement sounded competent. But, once again, struck all the judges as just a bit too fast. The whole performance sounded as if it had been played by someone who wanted to get through the sonata as soon as possible. Either Hugo or Percy could have reacted that way, thought the Maestro, but that sounded like Hugo. Yes, certainly Hugo.

“Thank you,” called out the Maestro, “please wait back stage and send out the next musician.”

The sound of footsteps came and went, and then the final violinist played his first notes. Before those first notes sounded, the stagehand had resumed his seat and his game. When they did sound, even he looked up. The judges all seemed startled. Those notes had a tone quality none of them had heard before.

This time the Presto movement didn’t go as quickly. Unlike the first performer, the second one made all the key shifts smoothly. This performer didn’t seem to get the joke imbedded in the second movement. However, he slowed down, as the Andante movement requires, and focused on making the fugue in it sound fugal. He did so quite impressively. As for the third movement, none of the judges, even the Maestro, could hear a major flaw. When the sound of the final theme faded in the hall, the stagehand (of all people) broke into applause.

Sweat fringed the Maestro’s brow, his usually pale triangular face had turned a bright red. He looked like he’d just finished conducting a whole symphony. What to do? What to do? Looked at strictly in terms of performance, musician number two played the sonata only a bit better than the first, or so the Maestro tried, unsuccessfully, to tell himself . But the sound! That marvelous sound!


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The Maestro had gone into the auditorium certain that he could tell Percy from Hugo. Now he wasn’t so sure. As he thought about it, he’d never heard either play an extended solo before. One or the other stood out in the orchestra rehearsals only after making a mistake. The Maestro had heard no major mistakes from number two. Did Hugo follow his advice and go first? Teenagers could be so difficult. Maybe he didn’t and Percy went first. Then, there was no problem. But what if Hugo had followed his advice?

With the distracted Maestro still unsure what do, Wesley grew tired of waiting. “We don’t really need to vote, do we? I mean we all know it’s number two.” “Yes, we do,” said Grace with a bit of apprehension in her voice. “Yes,” said the Maestro finally, “we do.” “No one asked,” said the stagehand, “but me too.” With that, the three judges all gave a nervous laugh.

“All right,” said the Maestro to the stagehand, “please ask both gentlemen to come out on stage.” Hugo and Percy duly appeared. Hugo, carrying his violin case, sauntered on stage shaking his head. Percy arrived gripping his violin case tightly with one hand and holding a metallic thermos bottle in the other.

“By the unanimous decision of the judges...” intoned the Maestro. “Contestant number two won,” interjected Hugo, “Yeah, I already figured that out. I congratulated him back stage.” “Contestant number two earned the chair in the violin A section,” said the Maestro somewhat too loudly, and then a bit more quietly he added,

“I look forward to you, Percy, making challenges of your own. It was a pleasure listening to you.” “Thank you, Maestro.”

Grace took in this whole scene and did not say a word, but she carefully looked Percy up and down. Then she stared very hard at the Maestro. If looks could kill.

Percy, already nervous and overheated, put down his violin case, unscrewed his thermos bottle, poured himself a cup of the liquid from within, and drank it down quickly.

VIII It took Percy fifteen minutes to walk back to his temporary residence, a rather long walk from the center of town by Erie View standards. He climbed the flight of stairs to his bed-sitter apartment, unlocked the door, (He was one of the few people in town who locked his door.) and went inside. After putting down his violin case on the bed, he went right over to the small sink, filled a quart pot with tap water and then put it on the single burner, electric stove. With his bottled water supply gone, he believed he’d found a safe substitute. Such being the case, it also occurred to him that all these years he’d been wasting money on over-priced bottled water.


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It only took about five minutes for the water to boil, but Percy let it boil until about a third of the water had evaporated. Various cliches about safety ran through his head. He had established that routine the previous night, just before going to bed. Then, like now, he poured the boiled water into his thermos using a funnel and put the water container into the modestly sized refrigerator. Still stunned by his victory, Percy sat down in the only chair in the room and took a deep breath.

Tingling in his lips started soon afterwards. He thought it must be part of the excitement. He’d rarely permitted himself the luxury of excitement (It could bring on an asthma attack.) so strange as it may seem, he wasn’t familiar with the sensation. Within a few minutes, the tingling turned to numbness, and that meant trouble.

“Think, think, what’ve I done wrong?” Percy mumbled to himself. Something he ate? Nothing out of the ordinary. What had he drank? Only thoroughly boiled tap water.

He tried to get up out of the chair and discovered he couldn’t coordinate his limbs. Then Percy knew; he’d better call for help. But he fumbled with his phone. In the end, he couldn’t even get it out of the case. It wouldn’t have mattered if he had. Not only did the coordination of limbs and fingers fail him, but by now he couldn’t make a sound. His voice box had become paralyzed. Then his breathing became more and more labored. And then...

IX The policeman knocked at the door of a large house with a lake view. He was a real policeman, wearing a county police uniform, not one of the ubiquitous security guards who constantly roved about Erie View on golf carts. The door opened,

“Felix Gains?” Unaccustomed to hearing his given first name, the Maestro paused for an instant.

“Why yes, what can I do for you officer, Officer Richmond,” replied the Maestro, reading off the name tag.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. Percy Stilwell, from your orchestra, was found dead in his apartment this morning. We’d like to locate any next of kin and we wondered if as his employer you might be able to help us out.” “Dead? Surely not. I just saw him yesterday morning. The other judges and I heard him play his heart out in a violin solo.” “Perhaps, under the circumstance, not the best choice of words,” replied Officer Richmond. Felix looked uncomfortable.

“After the paramedics brought him to the hospital, they let us know he’d passed away. I’m just on my way to his place now. While I’m on that subject, is there someone trustworthy who could go with me? You’d be surprised how often family members claim the cops lifted something valuable from places we need to inspect. Having a civilian witness cuts that sort of


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thing down.”

“Would a man of the cloth do? The local Methodist minister was one of the judges at the contest. He knew Percy a bit.”

“He’d be fine. Sounds like you people who heard him yesterday were some of the last ones to see him alive. Would you be kind enough to give me all their names and addresses?”

“Why? Why do you need all their names?” “When a relatively young man dies, his death is considered suspicious and we need to investigate it thoroughly, or as thoroughly as one police officer in an overworked department can.” “Well, I know for a fact Percy was allergic to just about everything. Maybe he unintentionally ate a peanut or a shrimp.” “Maybe he did, but it’s been my experience that allergic people know their lives depend on being very careful what they eat and drink. Would you consider Percy Stilwell a careful man?” “Yes, yes I would.” “Well then, Mr. Gains, could I have those names and addresses please.” The Maestro walked over to the desk in his living room, and began hunting for Wes and Grace’s addresses and for something on which to write them. While he did so, he asked,

“How long will it take to determine if there was foul play?” “A lot longer than it takes on television, Mr. Gains, a lot longer.

X With Percy’s landlord leading the way, Officer Richmond, Wesley and Grace climbed the stairs to the now vacant apartment. Officer Richmond had appeared at Wesley’s little house next to the church and found Grace there as well. Both were fully clothed. When she heard why the policeman needed Wesley, Grace asked to come along. Officer Richmond agreed. On the way he figured it would give him a chance to talk about Percy with both of them.

Before they went into Percy’s place, the policeman gave them each thin latex gloves to wear. They found Percy apartment/bed-sit clean and orderly. From what Wesley and Grace knew about Percy, that fit with his personality.

“I don’t think the murderer straightened up after the crime,” said Wesley. “If there was one,” added Grace. Officer Richmond said nothing, but continued to look around. He noted the empty pot on the stove and the funnel in the sink. He opened the refrigerator and didn’t find much beyond the thermos. He picked it up and gave it a shake. Sounded full. Then he carefully unscrewed the top, sniffed the contents and shined his flashlight inside.

“Looks like water,” he said as much to himself as the others, “but I’ll mark it for testing.” He noted the violin case on the carefully made bed and then spotted another on the floor near the night stand.


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“I take it professional violinists often keep a spare.” “Many do,” replied Grace, “but I’m a little surprised Percy did. As you can tell from this place, he didn’t have much money. Mind if I open the cases to see what he has?

“No, go ahead.” Since Grace was standing near the night stand, she picked up that well-worn case first and unlatched it. Inside she found a somewhat battered violin and bow. Grace put the violin under her chin and rapidly played a scale, about all she could do while wearing gloves.

“This isn’t the one he used for the challenge.” “No kidding,” said Wesley. Grace then opened the other sleek case and repeated the procedure.

“That’s the one,” said Wesley. “No kidding,” said Grace She put down the bow and tried to look inside the instrument. “What are you looking for?” asked Officer Richmond. “Who made it, but the light’s bad here.” Grace went over to the window and looked again.

“No! It can’t be. Here Wes, you look.” “Oh God!” said the Reverend Marron. “What is it?” “This is a Stradivarius, or at least that’s what it says. Either it’s the real thing or someone is making marvelous reproductions.” “I’m not the musical type,” said Officer Richmond, “but I take it from your reaction that Mr. Stilwell had a violin that was out of his price range.” “Last time I looked, Strads ran a million and a half at the low end,”said Grace with just a touch of envy in her voice.

“Very interesting,” said Officer Richmond, “very interesting.”

XI On nice summer days such as this one, Wesley liked to stroll along the path by the lake. Besides watching the colorful sails of the locally rented sunfish sailboats on the lake, he enjoyed looking at the orderly, colorful gardens and houses of every description from palatial (and well kept) to modest (and well kept) along the shoreline path. This day Grace joined him.

“A Strad,” said Wesley as they slowly walked along, “a Strad. Where in the world did he get that instrument? He must have inherited it.”

“Or stolen it,” replied Grace, “You saw the article a couple of weeks back about that stupid millionaire who wanted to be buried with his Strad. Maybe Percy dug him up.” Wesley couldn’t resist the sarcasm.

“Yeah, right, can’t you picture it: Percy with a shovel in one hand and his inhaler in the other digging up a grave. Come on. Well, wherever he got that marvelous instrument, do you think that’s why he was murdered?”


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“If that’s the motive, the murderer forgot to take it.” “Did anyone have a grudge against Percy?” continued Wesley, “Besides you, I mean.” Grace shot him one of her looks.

“What good would it do me to get Percy out of the way with Hugo waiting in the wings. Do you figure that I planned on poisoning him too?” Having pushed the envelope as far as he dared in that direction, Wesley moved off in another one.

“What about Hugo? Don’t you think he might have been so furious at losing the challenge he’d do something like that?” “Does golden boy impress you as someone who needs to commit a murder? Does he strike you as someone who could plan a murder? I’m sure he knows the Maestro will look after him very nicely. Now there’s someone who could plan a murder.” “Why? If Percy suddenly started playing to a higher standard, that would give my friend the Maestro at least two totally competent violinists. Three counting you. (He smiled; she stuck out her tongue at him.) The orchestra is all he cares about. Why weaken it?” Wesley, paused for a moment and then asked,

“Poison, just a minute ago you said poison didn’t you? “Well, yes I suppose I did. It’s just that the cop said they’d sent the body off for toxicological tests. I presume if they found him with gunshot wounds, there would’ve been blood all over. You saw, there wasn’t. If someone beat him to death, the place would have been a mess. Did you see a mess? No he died quietly, very quietly.” “So, then, if he was murdered, he must have been poison.” “Exactly.” “What if it wasn’t murder? Maybe one of his allergies did kill him. He had so many of them.” “But he was so careful,” said Grace, “He always checked before he took a bite of food. And did you ever see him drink anything else besides bottled water?” Before Wesley could answer, Grace’s face lit up and she almost shouted,

“Yes, yes I did! So did you!” “What? When?” “After the challenge, Don’t you remember? He came out with his violin case in one hand and a thermos bottle filled with something in the other. Then he poured himself a cup full of what looked like water and drank it right there in front of us.” “Maybe it was vodka.” “Did you see any booze in his place?” asked Grace. “He was probably allergic to it like everything else. That leaves water, most likely non-bottle water or why put it in a thermos?” “Do you really think he’d take a chance and drink Lake Erie water? Anything could be in it.” It was Wesley’s turn to pause and have a revelation.

“Wait, wait, in his apartment there was an empty pot on the stove. And remember,


A Taste of Erie

Richmond took the thermos bottle out of the fridge and shook it. It sounded full. Percy must have taken tap water, boiled it and then poured it into his half empty thermos.” They both stopped walking and tried to absorb what they had just said. Grace tried to sum it up. In doing so she sounded like a religious fundamentalist describing the skeleton of an extinct animal she had just seen, one that had received no biblical mention on Noah’s ark.

“So you’re saying that Percy died from drinking boiled Lake Erie water.” “Yes, I guess I am. It certainly looks like a taste of Erie killed him.” “That’s weird. It’s just too weird.” And with that, deep in thought, Grace and Wesley continued their stroll down the Erie View path. ______________________________________________________________________________ Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae,...proliferate in water bodies...when the water is warm and nutrients are available. Many cyanobacteria species produce a group of toxins known as microcystins, some of which are toxic [to human beings]....the toxin persists for months or even years...Microcystins can even persist after boiling [and in the process become even more concentrated and toxic].... Butler, Carlisle, Linville & Washburn, Microcystins, (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency, January 2009) pp. 1-2.