By Susan Lyttek
“My Sam.” Aba strode in waving pieces of paper. “Look!”
I peered up from my desk. Being such a slow day, not a new case to be had, I longed for an excuse to stop shuffling papers and paying bills. My hubby was the best possible distraction. “What, love?” I stood up to kiss him, barely glancing at what he held.
He returned the kiss half-heartedly, pulled away, and waved two pieces of stamped cardstock in my face. “These. You know how hard it is to come by these tickets?”
“No.” I smirked. “Because I still have no idea what they are.”
He huffed and sat on the edge of my desk. “Downtown Orchestra Hall. The renowned Damian von Damian leading the Free Europe Orchestra.”
“Damian von Damian? Really?” Bubbles ran up and down my spine. “His rendition of the 1812 Overture is my favorite.”
He smiled. “I know this. How often do you play it?”
I leaned in. “What magic did you use to obtain this musical bliss?”
He shrugged. “I know people. Side benefit of being a taxi driver.”
“When’s the show?”
“Tonight at 8:00. Black tie. Maybe you can wear that red dress?”
At 7:30 p.m., one of Aba’s friends dropped us off in front of the hall. The crowd was already queuing outside. Even in my slinky, floor-length red formal, I felt a bit underdressed. It wasn’t the cool night air that sent chills over my arms but the numerous black-suited men with sunglasses pretending they weren’t a security detail.
Aba followed my gaze. “Don’t look. Probably secret police.”
I focused on my husband instead. Happily. The tux set off his dark hair and eyes, making him look like a movie star.
We soon walked up the marble stairs and entered, stepping onto the thick, red carpet of the entryway.
The usher guided us to our seats. Front and center, four rows back from the orchestra pit.
While listening to the warm-up, I scanned the program. They were to play a few new arrangements as well as some classical favorites. But I was most excited about the Overture.
Eight o’clock came and went, and the conductor had yet to appear. About twenty after, von Damian arrived to a standing ovation. After a few bows, he turned, tapped on the stand, and the musicians quieted. The first selection was rather bizarre. Though it was devoted to violins and drums, the woodwinds kept their instruments to their mouths as if ready to play—yet the conductor never brought them in.
The applause was anemic.
“Maybe the new piece isn’t his favorite,” I whispered to Aba.
The Overture began with the saxophones and cellos as it should, so I relaxed into my chair. When the conductor included the flutes, their sounds were a half step behind. The musicians did their best to keep playing, but his directing was nothing like my recording. Near the finale, he began to swing his arms wildly, with no rhythm or order. His black tail flopped as he ordered the tympany to bang and the cymbals clash. Damian then pointed to the cannon. Was that a smirk?
As one, the orchestra stopped playing and lowered their instruments. There was no clapping from the audience, no standing ovation, just stunned silence.
Then the first chair violin stood, inclined his head, and left. The other musicians filed after him, leaving the conductor alone, his hands at his side, his back still to us.
All over the orchestra hall, patrons burst into thousands of confused conversations.
My stomach twisted, an indication something was off. “Come on, Aba.” I pulled him after me. “We’re going to find out what’s going on.”
At the stage door, I took my ID from my purse. “Detective,” I announced, flashing my badge.
The guard opened the door and stood aside.
Strange. That seldom happens. This performance, or lack thereof, had everyone discombobulated.
“Are you sure about this?” Aba grumbled as we shuffled our way backstage, passing exiting musicians.
I squeezed his hand. “Positive.” If it weren’t for the heels, I’d be skipping with delight at an unsolved mystery.
The hall director was center stage, offering the departing audience a free drink as well as a ticket to an equivalent show. Next to him, the conductor hadn’t moved. A smile carved into his face.
I marched up to the man and tapped his arm.
“Damian von Damian?”
“Vas?” The man bowed, but then leapt forward, wielding the baton like a sword.
As he lunged, I stepped sideways, ducked under his thrusting arm, grabbed it, and twisted it behind him. “Not wise.”
No one should underestimate a Spade.
The man deflated. “No. Nicht gut.”
When he shook his head, I noticed a line at the base of the neck.
I needed to get him away from prying eyes. “Aba, let’s escort him backstage.”
My multilingual Aba uttered a few guttural sounds in German. The fake Damian nodded and followed us into the staging area.
We waited for the remaining musicians to pack up their gear and leave.
I pulled off von Damian’s dark wig, revealing a head of wiry blond hair. “You are not Damian.”
“No. Nein.” His mouth curled on one side. “But now because of ploy, cousin Damian safe.”
He nodded twice. “Da. He seek…”
My brain clicked the pieces into place. The famous conductor hailed from East Germany. “Asylum?”
“Da. At embassy.”
Now the subterfuge made sense. “Are you even a conductor?”
“No. Physics professor. I forgot my conducting lessons.” He laughed. “American citizen, though my English not good.”
Aba commiserated. “Totally understand.” Patting him on the back, he asked, “Do you think you could make sure we see your cousin in his next concert?”
“I will give you my tickets, if you escort me past secret police and give me ride back home.”
“Deal.” Aba and I said in unison.
Professor Damian chortled. “Tickets for cousin’s freedom. So worth it.”