Title: The Monteverdi Manuscript
Author: Joseph Allen
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2
Did Hubert Fulmer find a lost manuscript before he plunged from his apartment onto Seventh Avenue?
The action revolves around the death of a famous musician, who hits the pavement outside Carnegie Hall from the window of his apartment seven stories up. He has recorded keyboard versions of a lost opera by Claudio Monteverdi, the man who “invented” opera. Set in New York, London and Venice, action includes a kidnapping, drug use, prostitution, LGBT characters, one character who comes back from the dead, and three classic New York detective characters led by Hugo Miller.
Of course Hubert was dead, so he couldn't provide any helpful information about how the hashish got spiked, or by whom. He was a very non-meticulous person, apparently. According to Fred, he never filed his income taxes on time because he kept no records and had to have his agent gather things together and take them to the accountant just to get on file. He was always slightly in debt to the IRS, nothing egregious, but he never had enough of anything deducted from his pay. He was perennially paying last year's taxes this year, or the year before that's taxes this year. Needless to say, he did not keep a datebook that would show who had been there in the day or days before he flew out the casement window onto the Avenue.
Hubert was gay. I thought all harpsichordists were gay, which as it turns out, is not true. Fortunately not all gay people are harpsichordists, or the world would be ringing with two- and three-part inventions to the point where we would all be sick of them. Harpsichords went out of fashion when Mozart was a kid, as a matter of fact, although they survived in the opera house for a while, accompanying the spoken or slightly sung recitative parts of operas. They came back into fashion when some lesbian keyboard artists in Paris in the first part of the twentieth century decided that baroque and rococo music ought to be played on them instead of on Steinway grands. That would be principally Wanda Landowska, whose recordings always seemed to me to reveal a startling lack of style and metronomic regularity.
Because he was a fag and a musician, it was assumed after his somewhat colorful exit from life, there were all kinds of unsavory people in and out of his apartment. Being a Great Artist, one accepted that, especially in New York where certain famous conductors had a history of pederasty, even when on tour. The police shrugged and assumed that virtually anyone could have wandered into Hubert's palatial apartment populated with antique Persian rugs and nineteenth-century Orientalist paintings, as long as he was willing to have his thing sucked, or maybe vice versa. After all, I didn't know Hubert, but he did seem like a flamer for the few minutes of our acquaintance. He was wearing a multicolored Japanese bathrobe and at least six rings, including on one of his thumbs, the left I think. .
I said to Fred, I wonder if there was anything in the apartment when we were there that would tell us something about who did this? I admit to feeling a bit like Hercule Poirot, although I did not have little moustaches to twirl, but I felt my little gray cells whirling about in my head, looking for clues. I tried to walk mentally into the apartment again, as I had done before. It was the first time I saw it, and I was trying to take it all in. The carpets, Persian carpets everywhere dominated by that orangey burgundy color that seems to be the background of a lot of Sarouks.
I looked at the first bookcase while Hubert and Fred were making nice and asking about old friends and protégés. The books in that first bookcase were largely fiction, not at all the music library I would have expected. Some nice old bindings, and there was Thackeray and Dickens, and Proust. I grabbed one of the volumes of Proust and it was in French, because of course Hubert would have spoken French--if he had read In Search of Time in the first place, that is. I tried, but only barely made it through Swann's Way in English--what can I tell you? I can speak a little parley-voo, but as to reading a French masterpiece, forget it. I barely got through Un Certain Sourire and L'Etranger in French 1 and 2.
Hubert took the Proust volume out of my hand and air-kissed me. "First edition," he said, opened the book and read the famous bit about the Madeleine dissolving in the tea with what sounded like a credible accent, but I saw Fred scowling behind him, so I knew he was doing something wrong. I have to say Fred was better in Italian than in French, but I would have trusted him with accents. Anyway, Hubert gave me a snakey or lizardish kind of smile, like Dracula leading a sweet young thing into a roomful of coffins. But of course I hung back and continued looking at the art. Nothing I recognized, but I remember an Arab with a huge scimitar standing in front of a doorway or gate with blue and white tiles in that semi-arched way that a lot of Muslim architects favored. Like at the Alhambra.
He took us into what I would call a living room and there was indeed a table with a huge hookah on it and cushions all around the edges. Was he acting at all strange? Well, I didn't know the man, but he just seemed like he was doing a guided tour of his own apartment to me, nothing goggle-eyed or unduly weird other than the slightly ridiculous come-hither looks he kept flashing at me. Clearly he thought I was Fred's boyfriend, so that was probably it--I was fair game. I had unknowingly been Fred's boyfriend briefly, when I had pneumonia in grad school and had to move out of my apartment because I was too sick to take care of myself. Fred had a carriage house in Santa Monica, or maybe a converted garage, but it was big, and he actually nursed me back to health with the meds the doc gave me and a lot of actually home-made soups and fresh baguettes and bottle after bottle of ginger ale, the kind made with real ginger.
So I had this pinky ring, which people wore then, though they don't any more. It was small, shaped like a signet, but smaller than a signet, and with a nice small oval of spinach-colored jade in it instead of a crest or whatever a real signet would have. No carving, no cameo.
Fred had admired it, and I had bought it at Tiffany with some found money at some point and actually turned it around so the jade faced into my hand when I wore it because it made me feel like I ought to be in New York when I was a student at UCLA. So I handed it to him one day and said, "Here, you can wear this."
That made me publicly Fred's boyfriend, though I did not realize it at the time. People at school were familiar with the ring (who knew?) and Fred made them familiar with it if they were not already, telling them that I gave it to him, preening like a slightly overweight and not very attractive male pigeon ducking and stretching in front of an uninterested female.
When I got well enough to go back to class, I ran into Patty, who had been my girlfriend briefly, and she said, I hear you're engaged to Fred. I think I laughed in what I would have assumed was a sardonic manner, and said, deadpanning, "What are you talking about?"
"Well the ring you gave him."
"Jesus Irving Christ. I didn't give him a ring. I told him he could wear it because he admired it, and I was thanking him for taking care of me while I had pneumonia."
"Oh, I see," she drawled knowingly.
I headed over to the Music Building and marched into Fred's office. He smiled beatifically at me.
"You're back. Back from the dead."
"Lucky for me. Can I have my engagement ring please?"