Grace Notes
Written by Sara Paretsky — Narrated by Jean Smart

VI

“Damn it, Warshawski, what were you doing here anyway?” Sergeant John McGonnigal and I were talking in the back room of Mr. Fortieri’s shop while evidence technicians ravaged the front.

I was as surprised to see him as he was me: I’d worked with him, or around him, anyway, for years downtown at the Central District. No one down there had told me he’d transferred—kind of surprising, because he’d been the right-hand man of my dad’s oldest friend on the force, Bobby Mallory. Bobby was nearing retirement now; I was guessing McGonnigal had moved out to Montclare to establish a power base independent of his protector. Bobby doesn’t like me messing with murder, and McGonnigal sometimes apes his boss, or used to.

Even at his most irritable, when he’s inhaling Bobby’s frustration, McGonnigal realizes he can trust me, if not to tell the whole truth, at least not to lead him astray or blow a police operation. Tonight he was exasperated simply by the coincidence of mine being the voice that summoned him to a crime scene—the nature of their work makes most cops a little superstitious. He wasn’t willing to believe I’d come out to the Montclare neighborhood just to ask about music. As a sop, I threw in my long-lost cousin who was trying to track down a really obscure score.

“And what is that?”

“Sonatas by Claudia Fortezza Verazi.” Okay, maybe I sometimes led him a little bit astray.

“Someone tore this place up pretty good for a while before the old guy showed up. It looks as though he surprised the intruder and thought he could defend himself with—what did you say he was holding? an oboe? You think your cousin did that? Because the old guy didn’t have any Claudia whoever whoever sonatas?”

I tried not to jump at the question. “I don’t think so.” My voice came from far away, in a small thread, but at least it didn’t quaver.

I was worrying about Vico myself. I hadn’t told him about Mr. Fortieri, I was sure of that. But maybe he’d found the letter Fortieri wrote Gabriella, the one I’d tucked into the score of Don Giovanni. And then came out here, looking for—whatever he was really hunting—and found it, so he stabbed Mr. Fortieri to hide his—Had he come to Chicago to make a fool of me in his search for something valuable? And how had McGonnigal leaped on that so neatly? I must be tired beyond measure to have revealed my fears.

“Let’s get this cousin’s name … Damn it, Vic, you can’t sit on that. I move to this district three months ago. The first serious assault I bag who should be here but little Miss Muppet right under my tuffet. You’d have to be on drugs to put a knife into the guy, but you know something or you wouldn’t be here minutes after it happened.”

“Is that the timing? Minutes before my arrival?”

McGonnigal hunched his shoulders impatiently. “The medics didn’t stop to figure out that kind of stuff—his blood pressure was too low. Take it as read that the old man’d be dead if you hadn’t shown so pat—you’ll get your citizen’s citation the next time the mayor’s handing out medals. Maybe Fortieri’d been bleeding half an hour, but no more. So, I want to talk to your cousin. And then I’ll talk to someone else, and someone else and someone after that. You know how a police investigation runs.”

“Yes, I know how they run.” I felt unbearably tired as I gave him Vico’s name, letter by slow letter, to relay to a patrolman. “Did your guys track down Mr. Fortieri’s daughter?”

“She’s with him at the hospital. And what does she know that you’re not sharing with me?”

“She knew my mother. I should go see her. It’s hard to wait in a hospital while people you don’t know cut on your folks.”

He studied me narrowly, then said roughly that he’d seen a lot of that himself, lately, his sister had just lost a kidney to lupus, and I should get some sleep instead of hanging around a hospital waiting room all night.

I longed to follow his advice, but beneath the rolling waves of fatigue that crashed against my brain was a sense of urgency. If Vico had been here, had found what he was looking for, he might be on his way to Italy right now.

The phone rang. McGonnigal stuck an arm around the corner and took it from the patrolman who answered it. After a few grunts he hung up.

“Your cousin hasn’t checked out of the Garibaldi, but he’s not in his room. As far as the hall staff know he hasn’t been there since breakfast this morning, but of course guests don’t sign in and out as they go. You got a picture of him?”

“I met him yesterday for the first time. We didn’t exchange high school yearbooks. He’s in his mid-thirties, maybe an inch or two taller than me, slim, reddish-brown hair that’s a little long on the sides and combed forward in front, and eyes almost the same color.”

I swayed and almost fell as I walked to the door. In the outer room the chaos was greater than when I’d arrived. On top of the tumbled books and instruments lay gray print powder and yellow crime-scene tape. I skirted the mess as best I could, but when I climbed into the Trans Am I left a streak of gray powder on the floor mats.

 

 

VII

Although her thick hair now held more gray than black, I knew Barbara Fortieri as soon as I stepped into the surgical waiting room (now Barbara Carmichael, now fifty-two, summoned away from flute lessons to her father’s bedside). She didn’t recognize me at first: I’d been a teenager when she last saw me, and twenty-seven years had passed.

After the usual exclamations of surprise, of worry, she told me her father had briefly opened his eyes at the hospital, just before they began running the anesthetic, and had uttered Gabriella’s name.

“Why was he thinking about your mother? Had you been to see him recently? He talks about you sometimes. And about her.”

I shook my head. “I wanted to see him, to find out if Gabriella had consulted him about selling something valuable the summer she got sick, the summer of 1965.”

Of course Barbara didn’t know a thing about the matter. She’d been in her twenties then, engaged to be married, doing her masters in performance at Northwestern in flute and piano, with no attention to spare for the women who were in and out of her father’s shop.

I recoiled from her tone as much as her words, the sense of Gabriella as one of an adoring harem. I uttered a stiff sentence of regret over her father’s attack and turned to leave.

She put a hand on my arm. “Forgive me, Victoria: I liked your mother. All the same, it used to bug me, all the time he spent with her. I thought he was being disloyal to the memory of my own mother … anyway, my husband is out of town. The thought of staying here alone, waiting on news. …”

So I stayed with her. We talked emptily, to fill the time, of her classes, the recitals she and her husband gave together, the fact that I wasn’t married, and, no, I didn’t keep up with my music. Around nine one of the surgeons came in to say that Mr. Fortieri had made it through surgery. The knife had pierced his lung and he had lost a lot of blood. To make sure he didn’t suffer heart damage they were putting him on a ventilator, in a drug-induced coma, for a few days. If we were his daughters we could go see him, but it would be a shock and he wanted us to be prepared.

We both grimaced at the assumption that we were sisters. I left Barbara at the door of the intensive care waiting room and dragged myself to the Trans Am. A fine mist was falling, outlining street lamps with a gauzy halo. I tilted the rearview mirror so that I could see my face in the silver light. Those angular cheekbones were surely Slavic, and my eyes Tony’s clear deep gray. Surely. I was surely Tony Warshawski’s daughter.

The streets were slippery. I drove with extreme care, frightened of my own fatigue. Safe at home the desire for sleep consumed me like a ravening appetite. My fingers trembled on the keys with my longing for my bed.

Mr. Contreras surged into the hall when he heard me open the stairwell door. “Oh, there you are, doll. I found your cousin hanging around the entrance waiting for you, least, I didn’t know he was your cousin, but he explained it all, and I thought you wouldn’t want him standing out there, not knowing how long it was gonna be before you came home.”

“Ah, cara cugina!” Vico appeared behind my neighbor, but before he could launch into his recitative the chorus of dogs drowned him, barking and squeaking as they barreled past him to greet me.

I stared at him, speechless.

“How are you? Your working it was good?”

“My working was difficult. I’m tired.”

“So, maybe I take you to dinner, to the dancing, you are lively.” He was speaking English in deference to Mr. Contreras, whose only word of Italian is “grappa.”

“Dinner and dancing and I’ll feel like a corpse. Why don’t you go back to your hotel and let me get some sleep.”

“Naturally, naturally. You are working hard all the day and I am playing. I have your—your partitura—”

“Score.”

“Buono. Score. I have her. I will take her upstairs and put her away very neat for you and leave you to your resting.”

“I’ll take it with me.” I held out my hand.

“No, no. We are leaving one big mess last night, I know that, and I am greedy last night, making you stay up when today you work. So I come with you, clean—il disordine—disorderliness?, then you rest without worry. You smell flowers while I work.”

Before I could protest further he ducked back into Mr. Contreras’s living room and popped out with a large portmanteau. With a flourish he extracted a bouquet of spring flowers, and the score, wrapped this time in a cream envelope, and put his arm around me to shepherd me up the stairs. The dogs and the old man followed him, all four making so much racket that the medical resident who’d moved in across the hall from Mr. Contreras came out.

“Please! I just got off a thirty-six-hour shift and I’m trying to sleep. If you can’t control those damned dogs I’m going to issue a complaint to the city.”

Vico butted in just as Mr. Contreras, drawing a deep breath, prepared to unleash a major aria in defense of his beloved animals. “Mi scusa, Signora, mi scusa. It is all my doing. I am here from Italy to meet my cousin for the first time. I am so excited I am not thinking, I am making noise, I am disturbing the rest your beautiful eyes require. …”

I stomped up the stairs without waiting for the rest of the flow. Vico caught up with me as I was closing the door. “This building attracts hardworking ladies who need to sleep. Your poor neighbor. She is at a hospital where they work her night and day. What is it about America, that ladies must work so hard? I gave her some of your flowers; I knew you wouldn’t mind, and they made her so happy, she will give you no more complaints about the ferocious beasts.”

He had switched to Italian, much easier to understand on his lips than English. Flinging himself on the couch he launched happily into a discussion of his day with the “partitura.” He had found, through our mutual acquaintance Mr. Ranier, someone who could interpret the music for him. I was right: it was from the Baroque, and not only that, most likely by Pergolesi.

“So not at all possibly by our great-grandmother. Why would your mother have a handwritten score by a composer she could find in any music store?”

I was too tired for finesse. “Vico, where were you at five this afternoon?”

He flung up his hands. “Why are you like a policeman all of a sudden, eh, cugina?”

“It’s a question the police may ask you. I’d like to know, myself.”

A wary look came into his eyes—not anger, which would have been natural, or even bewilderment—although he used the language of a puzzled man: I couldn’t be jealous of him, although it was a compliment when we had only just met, so what on earth was I talking about? And why the police? But if I really wanted to know, he was downstairs, with my neighbor.

“And for that matter, Vic, where were you at five o’clock?”

“On the Kennedy Expressway. Heading toward north Harlem Avenue.”

He paused a second too long before opening his hands wide again. “I don’t know your city, cousin, so that tells me nothing.”

“Bene. Thank you for going to so much trouble over the score. Now you must let me rest.”

I put a hand out for it, but he ignored me and rushed over to the mound of papers we’d left in the hall last night with a cry that I was to rest, he was to work now.

He took the Pergolesi from its envelope. “The music is signed at the end, with the initials ‘CF.’ Who would that be?”

“Probably whoever copied it for her. I don’t know.”

He laid it on the bottom of the trunk and placed a stack of operas on top of it. My lips tight with anger I lifted the libretti out in order to get at the Pergolesi. Vico rushed to assist me but only succeeded in dropping everything, so that music and old papers both fluttered to the floor. I was too tired to feel anything except a tightening of the screws in my forehead. Without speaking I took the score from him and retreated to the couch.

Was this the same concerto Vico had taken with him the night before? I’d been naive to let him walk off with a document without some kind of proper safeguard. I held it up to the light, but saw nothing remarkable in the six pages, no signs that a secret code had been erased, or brought to light, nothing beyond a few carefully corrected notes in measure 168. I turned to the end where the initials “CF” were written in the same careful black ink as the notes.

Vico must have found Fortieri’s letter to my mother stuffed inside Don Giovanni and tracked him down. No, he’d been here at five. So the lawyer, Ranier, was involved. Vico had spent the day with him: together they’d traced Mr. Fortieri. Vico came here for an alibi while the lawyer searched the shop. I remembered Ranier’s eyes, granite chips in his soft face. He could stab an old man without a second’s compunction.

Vico, a satisfied smile on his face, came to the couch for Gabriella’s evening gown. “This goes on top, right, this beautiful concert dress. And now, cugina, all is tidy. I will leave you to your dreams. May they be happy ones.”

He scooped up his portmanteau and danced into the night, blowing me a kiss as he went.

 

 

VIII

I fell heavily into sleep, and then into dreams about my mother. At first I was watching her with Mr. Fortieri as they laughed over their coffee in the little room behind the shop where McGonnigal and I had spoken. Impatient with my mother for her absorption in someone else’s company I started smearing strawberry gelato over the oboe Mr. Fortieri was repairing. Bobby Mallory and John McGonnigal appeared, wearing their uniforms, and carried me away. I was screaming with rage or fear as Bobby told me my naughtiness was killing my mother.

And then suddenly I was with her in the hospital as she was dying, her dark eyes huge behind a network of tubes and bottles. She was whispering my name through her parched lips, mine and Francesca Salvini’s. “Maestra Salvini … nella cassa … Vittora, mia carissima, dale …” she croaked. My father, holding her hands, demanded of me what she was saying.

I woke as I always did at this point in the dream, my hair matted with sweat. “Maestra Salvini is in the box,” I had told Tony helplessly at the time. “She wants me to give her something.”

I always thought my mother was struggling with the idea that her voice teacher might be dead, that that was why her letters were returned unopened. Francesca Salvini on the Voice had filled my ears from my earliest childhood. As Gabriella staged her aborted comeback, she longed to hear some affirmation from her teacher. She wrote her at her old address in Pitigliano, and in care of the Siena Opera, as well as through her cousin Frederica—not knowing that Frederica herself had died two years earlier.

“Cassa”—“box”—isn’t the usual Italian word for coffin, but it could be used as a crude figure just as it is in English. It had always jarred on me to hear it from my mother—her speech was precise, refined, and she tolerated no obscenities. And as part of her last words—she lapsed into a coma later that afternoon from which she never awoke—it always made me shudder to think that was on her mind, Salvini in a box, buried, as Gabriella was about to be.

But my mother’s urgency was for the pulse of life. As though she had given me explicit instructions in my sleep I rose from the bed, walked to the hall without stopping to dress, and pulled open the trunk once more. I took out everything and sifted through it over and over, but nowhere could I see the olivewood box that had held Gabriella’s glasses on the voyage to America. I hunted all through the living room, and then, in desperation, went through every surface in the apartment.

I remembered the smug smile Vico had given me on his way out the door last night. He’d stuffed the box into his portmanteau and disappeared with it.

 

 

IX

Vico hadn’t left Chicago, or at least he hadn’t settled his hotel bill. I got into his room at the Garibaldi by calling room service from the hall phone and ordering champagne. When the service trolley appeared from the bar I followed the waiter into the elevator, saw which room he knocked on as I sauntered past him down the hall, then let myself in with my picklocks when he’d taken off again in frustration. I knew my cousin wasn’t in, or at least wasn’t answering his phone—I’d already called from across the street.

I didn’t try to be subtle in my search. I tossed everything from the drawers onto the floor, pulled the mattress from the bed, and pried the furniture away from the wall. Fury was making me wanton: by the time I’d made sure the box wasn’t in the room the place looked like the remains of a shipwreck.

If Vico didn’t have the box he must have handed it off to Ranier. The import-export lawyer, who specialized in remarkable objets, doubtless knew the value of an old musical score and how to dispose of it.

The bedside clock was buried somewhere under the linens. I looked at my watch—it was past four now. I let myself out of the room, trying to decide whether Ranier would store the box at his office or his home. There wasn’t any way of telling, but it would be easier to break into his office, especially at this time of day.

I took a cab to the west Loop rather than trying to drive and park in the rush-hour maelstrom. The November daylight was almost gone. Last night’s mist had turned into a biting sleet. People fled for their home-bound transportation, heads bent into the wind. I paid off the cab and ran out of the ice into the Caleb Building’s coffee shop to use the phone. When Ranier answered I gave myself a high nasal voice and asked for Cindy.

“She’s left for the day. Who is this?”

“Amanda Parton. I’m in her book group and I wanted to know if she remembered—”

“You’ll have to call her at home. I don’t want this kind of personal drivel discussed in my office.” He hung up.

Good, good. No personal drivel on company time. Only theft. I mixed with the swarm of people in the Caleb’s lobby and rode up to the thirty-seventh floor. A metal door without any letters or numbers on it might lead to a supply closet. Working quickly, while the hall was briefly empty, I unpicked the lock. Behind lay a mass of wires, the phone and signal lines for the floor, and a space just wide enough for me to stand in. I pulled the door almost shut and stared through the crack.

A laughing group of men floated past on their way to a Blackhawks game. A solitary woman, hunched over a briefcase, scowled at me. I thought for a nervous moment that she was going to test the door, but she was apparently lost in unpleasant thoughts all her own. Finally, around six, Ranier emerged, talking in Italian with Vico. My cousin looked as debonair as ever, with a marigold tucked in his lapel. Where he’d found one in mid-November I don’t know but it looked quite jaunty against his brown worsted. The fragment of conversation I caught seemed to be about a favorite restaurant in Florence, not about my mother and music.

I waited another ten minutes, to make sure they weren’t standing at the elevator, or returning for a forgotten umbrella, then slipped out of the closet and down to Ranier’s import-export law office. Someone leaving an adjacent firm looked at me curiously as I slid the catch back. I flashed a smile, said I hated working nights. He grunted in commiseration and went on to the elevator.

Cindy’s chair was tucked against her desk, a white cardigan draped primly about the arms. I didn’t bother with her area but went to work on the inner door. Here Ranier had been more careful. It took me ten minutes to undo it. I was angry and impatient and my fingers kept slipping on the hafts.

Lights in these modern buildings are set on master timers for quadrants of a story, so that they all turn on or off at the same time. Outside full night had arrived; the high harsh lamps reflected my wavering outline in the black windows. I might have another hour of fluorescence flooding my search before the building masters decided most of the denizens had gone home for the day.