The Marriage of Figaro, Chapter One
Now for another short novel I’m working on. I think I posted enough of Mr. Darkness until the book’s ready to go, so for now there’s this strange tale of a group of young musical prodigies and the terrible events that surround them.
As you can see from the cover to the left, this is called The Marriage of Figaro, clearly one of the strangest titles for a strange little novel. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll post a few chapters every few days, and I hope you enjoy them and will come back for more.
The Marriage of Figaro
by Douglas Clegg
Note: Most of this is rough draft. Enjoy at your own peril.
In the Bar at Trois Freres
“If you’re going to murder someone,” Ned Donnelly said, “it should look precisely – in every detail – like bad luck. Something that could happen to anybody. You listening?”
I nodded, putting my drink down.
“And you’re not planning a murder yourself?” he asked.
Ned’s eyes were small and pinched until he put on a pair of thick-framed glasses, and then they were surprisingly bright and large. You could trust him because he told you the worst of himself upfront. Other than liquor and dreamless sleep, he loved three things: women “with a little experience under their belts but before the world has its way with them,” classical music, and the subject of murder.
We’d first met at one of Chetty’s gatherings at the country house. Ned, in semi-retirement, taught criminal justice classes at a night school. That particular evening, he sat across from me at one of the endless summer suppers, wedged between a socialite named Bunny and the famously defrocked priest from Ridgefield.
After the table cleared, Ned remained behind, chumming up to Chetty and me because he wanted to hear about our music. His elbows dug into the tablecloth, bottomless glass of Chateau Neuf du Pape in fist. We chattered into the amethyst hours of Mozart and Mahler and misspent youth, our muses and lack thereof, with only an occasional nod to the tribe itself.
Years passed. I ran into Ned again, at this bar, not too long after. I bumped into him twice at concerts in Manhattan, and then, after I’d moved for the fourth time, we began corresponding about concerts and recordings, and of course, Chetwin and the others and everything that had gone wrong.
I always knew where to find Ned no matter the time of year and if I felt the need on one of my business trips, as I did this particularly chilly night, I’d brave the ice and snow and drive to Connecticut. He’d become a seasonal fixture in the raftered bar of Le Bistro Trois Freres, a little dungeon of a place along a lost stretch of wooded road between Greenwich and not-Greenwich.
“Someone smart can basically finesse murder,” He said, two martinis ahead of me.
“By finesse, you mean…”
“To make it look natural. Keep those arrows from pointing at you, anyway. Nobody does that overnight. I worked a case where the killer planned his crime beginning when he was ten years old. Didn’t carry it out until he was close to forty. Imagine that. The waiting must’ve been excruciating. The people he’d plotted against were in their late seventies and eighties by the time he got around to it. If he’d waited a few more years, they might’ve all been dead anyway. His victims didn’t even know their connection to each other. But once upon a time they’d all lived in a specific county. And our killer had lived there, too, as a child. And even though we knew he’d done it, we had no evidence – not DNA, not a witness, nothing — to tie him in. He had alibis each time. Plus he was what we used to call upstanding. Respected. Community work, all that, happy wife and four cute kids, and none of them had a clue. To them, he was the good man.”
Ned put his chin in his hand and shook his head slightly.
“But we knew this guy did it. We could place him as a boy in each of his victim’s homes during a devastating year of his life. His mother had died in a terrible way and his father, unskilled and backward in some way, went house-to-house looking for work. And these particular people had said something to the boy’s father that must’ve burned in his memory. Must’ve just hit the nerve that changed the course of his life. I spent years on that one.”
“You ever catch him?”
“Not me. Another guy. Not long ago.”
“The longer you wait for revenge, the sloppier you get.” He sat up, losing the slouch. “It can be a slow burn of years. There may be some way to work out the problems, the possible ways this thing can go. So one day, long time after we closed the file on this, it happened. Got himself a promotion at work, big salary. A move to a better neighborhood. He and the wife threw out a bunch of old stuff from the attic and basement – broken furnitures, appliances, lampshades. And one of the neighbors — a real piece of work — goes through the trash hoping to find something to resell but instead discovers a water-stained shoe box packed with little three-by-five cards.”
Ned grinned as if I’d just located the shoebox myself.
“Maiden names, married names, addresses, specific details, a couple of faded photos, a timetable. Brief notes of schedules, habits. I’m still jealous of the guy who nailed it. Wish I’d figured all this out early.”
“Why’d he keep evidence all that time?”
Ned shrugged. “Blind spot. Part of the whole thing he wants to forget. So, he does forget. We’re more than a decade past the murders. He got his relief. His targets are dead. This guy doesn’t see himself as a murderer. He didn’t do it for money or out of anger. It was justice to him. He sees himself as a secret righter of wrongs and he knows nobody figured it out enough to charge him with anything. You know how you keep stuff in your house for years and you don’t even realize you have it or what it means anymore? That shoebox was probably just crammed up in some cupboard or attic, mixed in with old bills and tax crap. You keep a diary and then stop one day. You forget you ever kept it until you run across it years later and think what an idiot you were to ever keep a diary. And – in your case — you find those notes, you got your guy.”
Then, a second later, he added, “But you’re probably wrong. Mostly what looks like an accident is an accident. If the means of death’s nearly impossible for another person to have engineered, you go with reality. Life murders more often than other people do.”
A jukebox in the corner, silent, suddenly came to life, a pop tune of the moment.
“Now, who the hell put that crap on?” he said too loud. “Let’s get a table, far away from this awful racket.”
Settling into a corner of the dining room, we ordered dinner.
Ned switched topics. Had I been to the winter concert series in New Haven? How often did I get to Carnegie Hall? Or the Met? What was it like, my life these days?
To appease him, I drew from a shortlist of music-world anecdotes: ribald tales of the various musicians I’d worked with, and the now-famous soprano (a former classmate) who used studio tricks to cover a voice ruined by cigarettes and late nights, and what a genius a certain violinist was although he remained an awful human being in every other way.
The gossip of my sphere, basically.
Ned asked about my old friends, Spiro and Alexa of course (because everyone asked about them) and then he wanted to know more about Figaro and we talked about John Chetwin, too, and the conservatory days, back in the olden times of twenty years earlier, when — I told Ned — we believed we were all prodigies and dreamed of becoming celebrated musicians while still in our late teens and early twenties with a little experience under our belts but before the world had its way with us — before Death entered the snapshot.
Dinner arrived. Ned ate, noisily, as if French Onion soup and steak frites were the last meal he’d ever have in his life.
“And this whole tribal business,” he said. “I never understood that. I’d think you’d all have been too competitive. Maybe even at each others’ throats.”
“How’d you decide who was in and who was out?”
“We’d been hand-picked by Mansfield.”
“Ordained,” he nodded. “What was he like?”
“Impulsive. All over the place. He laid out all the rules and then told us to break them. To explore our creativity. Find our source. Discover what we believed. That kind of thing,” I said. “He encouraged all the liaisons. The wildness. I honestly believe he idolized us. He said we were the best and brightest and we’d set the world on fire.”
“And you believed him?” Before I could answer, he added, “At twenty, who doesn’t want to believe that.”
Ned asked more; I told less.
And then, before we parted that night, he asked me again what he’d asked each time I’d sought him out that winter:
“So, who’s this murderer?”
“At this point, I think it’s what you said. It’s life. There’s no way one person could’ve done it. And so perfectly.”
“Sounds about right,” he concluded, as we shook hands. “Your reaction’s natural. The injustice of loss. You want to blame someone, but usually it’s just the way things go.”
I called a cab for him, and – mostly sober – I braved dark roads back up the coast.
On the night’s long drive, the scalpel of memory cut to the bone of my twentieth year:
My father in his pin-striped suit of disapproval.
“You need something more stable than this…this dream,” my father said. “Look who you surround yourself with. They’re not your friends. Think of what could’ve happened. Think of how this could’ve turned out. I mean, as horrible as it is, think how much worse it might’ve been.”
He told me if I didn’t straighten up, I’d be at a regular old college in no time, studying something serious like economics — or else lucky to get a job at a gas station. “Your mother should never have bought you that cello in the first place. There’s more to life than music.”
But music was my life in those days. All of our lives. It was who we were. It was our communal heartbeat.
We were the tribe.
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Check back soon. I’ll get a new chapter going of The Marriage of Figaro, and once I know the publishing schedule, I’ll post it. (Bear in mind, I have about 12-15 books in close-to-finished stages, but I’m hoping to knock them down one after another. We’ll see!)
In the meantime, check out the various books, both upcoming and past here.