“Readers will enjoy spending time in the company of the
curmudgeonly Jacobus, and many will welcome the absence
of fisticuffs, car chases, and Glocks”
Publishers Weekly on Spring Break
“In Jacobus we have an imaginative, ornery, reclusive, witty protagonist”
Booklist on Spring Break
Saturday, March 28
It had been more than two months since Jacobus moved in with Nathaniel, and over a week since the disastrous masterclass. The adrenaline from the intensity of the moment had long since worn off, and the withdrawal left him listless and at loose ends. Jacobus was bored. And when he was bored he was intolerable, which might have been why Nathaniel was spending increasing amounts of time away from the apartment, consulting on cases.
‘There’s nothing to do around here,’ Jacobus grumbled.
‘Listen to some music,’ Nathaniel said and turned his attention back to the Times.
‘I’ve got Mendelssohn coming out my ass. I don’t need any more music.’
‘Listen to the news, then. Go for a walk. Make some coffee. Eat a sandwich.’
‘My lord!’ Nathaniel said. ‘Shall I arrange a playdate for you? Or a babysitter?’
‘Smug son of a—’
‘All right! All right!’ Nathaniel said. Jacobus heard him slap down the newspaper. ‘I do declare! Would a game of checkers make you happy?’
‘Happy? No. Modestly lessened sense of ennui? Yes.’
Nathaniel set up the board on a folding table between the two of them.
As Nathaniel was about to make his first move, Jacobus asked, ‘What about some music?’
‘Jake, I’ve never said this to you, but—’
‘OK. Never mind. Just go.’
Nathaniel moved his checker with Jacobus’s finger on it. Jacobus could have done it himself, since Nathaniel started out every game the same way. He released Jacobus’s hand after making his move.
‘It’s strange,’ Jacobus said.
‘What do you mean? It’s the same move as always.’
‘No. Not that. Just that business about the mushrooms and that kid both happening at the same time.’
‘Jake, let it go. You’ve been obsessing for a week. There’s no connection. Some people got sick from bad mushrooms. And a hyper young lady got sick from you. You do have that effect, you know.’
‘But Schlossberg was an expert. His wife said he went to great lengths to make sure the mushrooms were good. And the way he talked to the girl. There was something not right. Some innuendo I wasn’t catching.’
‘So what are you saying?’
‘I don’t know. Just that there was a connection.’
‘You know what I think?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘You think I’m a doddering old fool who can’t admit he was a prick to an eager student in front of her peers and who is just making excuses for his prickiositude.’
‘Uh-huh. I couldn’t’ve said it better. Your move. I’m getting the guacamole from the fridge.’
Jacobus grunted, a combination of acknowledgement and disapproval.
As the game proceeded, Jacobus gradually gained the upper hand. His ability to remember the location of all the pieces on the board was in part a fringe benefit of his training as a violinist memorizing dozens of concertos, sonatas, and concert pieces. At first he accomplished this in standard fashion, as most students do; then, after becoming blind, he was by necessity forced to memorize everything simply by the laborious process of listening over and over again.
‘How do you remember where all my checkers are?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘Not hard when you only have three of them.’
There was a buzz on Nathaniel’s intercom. Yumi was downstairs. Nathaniel buzzed her up. She hadn’t spoken to Jacobus since unceremoniously dumping him off at the curb the week before. He prepared himself to be harangued and started planning parrying retorts.
Nathaniel went to the door when the bell rang. Jacobus remained seated at the table, considering his next move. He heard his two friends enter the living room.
‘Schlossberg is dead,’ Yumi said. Terse and tense.
If there was a pause in Jacobus’s response, no one noticed it.
‘King me!’ he said, advancing his square checker to Nathaniel’s end of the board.
‘Is that all you have to say? This is terrible news!’ Yumi said.
‘No more terrible than anyone else who I hardly knew.’
‘Jake, what’s happened to you? Just because Aaron Schlossberg didn’t have the honor of your profound friendship didn’t mean he wasn’t one of the most important people in the music world. You’re heartless!’
‘Am I?’ Jacobus slammed down his doubled checker. ‘Am I?’ he repeated. ‘Did you by any chance notice the beggar sitting on the curb outside Nathaniel’s building? I can smell him a mile away. I’ve heard the rattle of his tin cup for years, rain or shine, winter or summer, and whatever I put in it he probably spends on booze. When he dies, which mercifully will be very soon, will that also be terrible news? Or is the death of someone who’s not “one of the most important people in the music world” of less consequence? Tell me, are you going to mourn for him?’
‘That’s not the point,’ Yumi said, but the wind in her sails had been reduced from gale force to a zephyr. ‘I didn’t know Schlossberg that well, either,’ she conceded. ‘And maybe he was on the pompous side. But he was a colleague on the faculty and he brought a lot of recognition to the conservatory. They said he would have been the next Philip Glass.’
‘That’s a motive for murder if I ever heard one.’
‘It wasn’t murder. He died of natural causes.’
‘Burst swollen ego?’
‘Not funny. Complications due to his diabetes.’
‘Pass me some of that whack-a-moley,’ Jacobus said to Nathaniel. He wasn’t hungry but he was going to show them his opinion of dying of diabetes. ‘Heavy on the chips.’
‘You might be disappointed to know that guacamole is healthy,’ Yumi said. ‘Avocados have good cholesterol.’
‘All cholesterol is good cholesterol. When did he die?’
‘A janitor found him yesterday, but they think he died Thursday. In one of the prefab practice modules at the conservatory.’
‘Didn’t he have a studio in his house? What was he doing in a module?’ Jacobus asked. ‘I thought those were for students.’
‘They think he must have been working on his latest opera. He was slumped over the piano. He had been working hard on it.’
‘Didn’t his good wife wonder where he was for all that time?’
‘She said she assumed he was off in the woods on one of his foraging excursions. That he did it all the time, and since it was spring break—’
‘Ah, his Beethoven reenactment. What opera was he working on, The Life and Death of Me?’
‘Anwar and Yitzhak. It’s about how Sadat and Rabin forged peace between Egypt and Israel only to be assassinated by their own people. The Met was going to premiere it next year.’
‘Who’s singing the role of Jimmy Carter? Pavarotti?’
‘Can’t you take anything seriously?’ Nathaniel asked.
‘Certainly. Have the police interrogated the fat lady to find out when she stopped singing?’
‘You’re ridiculous,’ Yumi said, a little too indignantly. Jacobus perceived laughter about to bubble to the surface.
‘Well, since no one’s taken anything I’ve said about the mushrooms and the girl seriously, why should I bother to be otherwise?’
‘This has nothing to do with any of that! Audrey is Audrey and Aaron is Aaron. And Sybil apologized to me about the mistake with the mushrooms just like she apologized to you and everyone else.’
‘People got sick.’
‘Yes, people got sick. They had bowel problems, just like you. But no one is worse for wear. Jake, didn’t you hear me say Aaron died of natural causes? He had a serious diabetes problem and didn’t take care of himself. It was just a matter of time.’
‘All right. Whatever you say. I’m just a deluded old asshole who happens to see connections between—’
‘I wouldn’t say deluded,’ Nathaniel chuckled.
Jacobus felt Yumi’s arms around his shoulders.
‘You’re not that old, either,’ she said.
‘What would I do without friends like you two?’
‘So I’m going to Kinderhoek to sit shivah with Sybil,’ Yumi said.
Jacobus turned his head.
‘Didn’t realize sitting shivah was a Buddhist tradition,’ he said.
‘We Japanese are equal-opportunity mourners.’
‘I was under the impression Schlossberg was a nonbeliever. And I’d place a large wager his wife ain’t Chassidic’.
‘There’s still a Jewish community at Kinderhoek from the old days, and they’re helping out. He’s already been buried – his parents are Orthodox. They still live in Brooklyn and insisted on doing everything according to tradition.’
‘Doesn’t a wife usually have greater say over such things?’
‘Tallulah told me that Sybil went along with it to get them out of her hair, even though she said he wanted to be cremated.’
‘To have his ashes scattered throughout his beloved woods?’
‘How did you know?’
‘My sense of poetic injustice.’
‘So, do you want to go with me or not?’ Yumi asked.
That caught Jacobus by surprise.
‘Didn’t think you’d want to be seen with me. Especially up there.’
‘Well, I don’t really.’
‘Then why do you want me to go?’
‘You’ve got me thinking. Just in case.’
‘In case of what?’
‘In case you’re right.’
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