Strapping Danforth Dons a Fedora to
the Case of the Crappy Violinist
Three sharp raps on the door. I opened it and led the frightened couple to the couch, where they sat, fingering the cigarette holes in the vinyl.
“Why me?” I asked, with just enough jab to make them uncomfortable.
The man squeezed his wife's hand. “You're the best.”
“Tell me everything.” I poured them two glasses of Bourgonese Sherry. Mr. and Mrs. Stockton started talking.
Their nine-year old son, Alex, had been taking private music lessons at the Walton-Chamberlain School of Music for three years. He started off on trumpet but he didn't like it. They traded the trumpet for a guitar and he lost interest after a week. They traded the guitar for a violin and now that was gathering dust. At sixty dollars per hour, plus the instrument rental fee, they couldn't afford this much longer. They'd lost a bundle in bad investments. Things weren't looking so hot.
Choking back tears, Mrs. Stockton said, “Time is running out. He's in the ninety-ninth percentile. He's always been gifted and talented but now he's becoming interested in cars,” she sniffed, “We can't let him waste his…his…genius.” Her eyes streamed water like two clogged toilets and soaked her fleece jacket like a wet sheep. Mr. Stockton's chin wrinkled like a Sharpei and he ran his manicured fingers above his well-combed hair like a magician levitating a beautiful woman over a giant wig.
I leaned back in my chair, “And?”
They spoke at the same time, “We want you to find out what's wrong with our son.”
We negotiated fees. They left. There's an old Lithuanian proverb that goes, “Leave the ass-wiping to your left hand.” I didn't know who was the ass but I was pretty sure I was a hand; left or right, only time would tell.
First thing next morning I paid the Walton-Chamberlain school of music a little visit. A pimply kid sat behind the receptionists' desk. Before he could ask if he could help me, I got in his face, “Where's Rhonda Applewhite?”
“She's in a lesson. She'll be done in twenty minutes.”
“I wanna see her now.” I showed the kid my credentials—a pair of anvil-like fists—and he pointed me to the upstairs office of Alex's violin teacher. I walked in without knocking and startled Rhonda out of her wits. She was telling a six year old how to hold a bow. I told the six year old where the door was and I told Rhonda to have a seat.
She waved her violin at me. “You can't barge in here like that.”
“I just did. But if you want, I can leave and barge in differently.”
She grabbed my bicep and gasped, “I love you.”
“Maybe later, Dollface,” I said as I peeled her hands from my arm. “First, I need some information on the Stockton kid.”
“Damn you! I'm stuck in this room all day, teaching kids how to hold a stick. It drives me mad.” With a violent lunge, she swept her desk clear of papers. She howled, “Take me now!”
“First, the Stockton kid.”
“Fine,” she pouted, “He's my next student. Hide.”
It was a tight fit, but I stuffed myself in the coat closet and peered through the keyhole.
As soon as he walked in the room he started crying. Rhonda gave him friendly hug and they sat next to one another, staring at a sheet of music. “I think my parents have hired a private investigator to tail me.”
Rhonda's cheeks flushed and she said, “Silly boy! What would give you that impression?”
“My sister said so. They're so stupid. I hate music. Please don't make me play today.”
Rhonda smiled softly and said, “I know. But you told me yourself that if you don't play a new song after every lesson your parents become cruel.” She turned to me in my hiding place and winked. “They said that if you don't learn an instrument you'll be sent to a community college after you graduate from high school and that you'll be a disgrace for the family. Isn't that right?”
“Yes, ma'am. And they also make me play for their snobby friends when they come over and get drunk.”
“Okay, then. Take out your violin and let's get to work.”
I had my answer and I was ready to act. But first I had to suffer an eternity of the kid's sawing and screeching. He was awful. Just as I was losing consciousness, he left and Rhonda opened the closet door. I tumbled out like an inflatable cow filled with rocks.
Straightening my tie, I said, “I'm ready to take you up on that offer if you're willing to be taken up on.”
“Okay. But make it quick. My next lesson is in ten minutes.”
We locked the door and pleasured each other like two Raphael paintings in a dishwasher set on heavy scrub.
Later that evening, Mr. and Mrs. Stockton walked into my office without knocking and poured two glasses of sherry without asking. After several minutes of gulping, Mrs. Stockton said, “So? What have you learned?”
“You're son doesn't have a problem.”
“I knew it! It's that awful teacher!” Mrs. Stockton's knuckles turned white around her tumbler. Any tighter and it would break.
“There's nothing wrong with his teacher,” I said coolly, “She's a very talented woman.” I winked at Mr. Stockton, who winked back.
“If it's not Alex and it's not his teacher, then—“
“It's you.” Mrs. Stockton's glass shattered. “Both of you.” Mr. Stockton's glass shattered.
“B-but, we're fabulous parents…”
“I never said you weren't. But you are tone deaf. Let's try an experiment.” I screamed at the top of my lungs. They covered their ears with their bloody hands. “That was the first movement from Beethoven's Ninth. What did you hear?”
Mrs. Stockton gasped, “Dear God in heaven. We're flawed.”
“You're not flawed. You're exceptional. As far as I'm concerned, you're practically human. Give it time. You'll get used to it.”
Unable to cope with the bad news, Mr. Stockton rose and bellowed, “How dare you!” His rage battled with his sorrow and the sorrow won. He cried like a rain of water balloons in an ocean of uncertainty. “It's true, isn't it?”
Mrs. Stockton stood and touched her husband's elbow, “Let's go.” She pulled an envelope from her pocketbook. To me she said, “This is for your trouble.”
I took the envelope from her maimed hand and gently pushed the dazed couple towards the door. I watched them stumble down the hall, leaning on each other like bowery drunks and then I locked the deadbolt.
The envelope was empty. I'm always the goddamned left hand.
Strapping Danforth, April, 2003