A Jumpin’ Night At The Garden of Eden
Some said he was
the greatest clarinetist to grace the Earth. Others tempered that praise,
proclaiming him to be the brightest star ever to shine upon Second Avenue. Naftule Brandwein was a
legend in his time, and others believed that legend would stand for decades to
Frank O’Hanlon didn’t
care about any of those things. He just wanted to question the man.
“I’m sorry,” said
the man blocking his path, “But it’s absolutely impossible.”
like it when he couldn’t get his way. He especially disliked when the
obstruction came in the form of a prissy stage manager like Leo Cohen.
impossible,” said O’Hanlon. “I need to talk to Mr. Brandwein tonight. The show
hasn’t begun yet. All I need is a few minutes.”
O’Hanlon, how many times do I need to tell you: Mr. Brandwein is very
particular about his pre-performance activities. He refuses to deviate from
them, and I won’t be the one to disrupt his schedule simply because you wish to
question him about a minor little manner.”
“A minor little
manner! You call being a potential witness to a murder a minor little manner?”
Cohen regarded him
with utter disdain. “It’s all semantics, Detective. But in the end, you’ll have
to wait, just like everyone else. Please excuse me.”
The door slammed
only once but in O’Hanlon’s mind it repeated like the endless loop of a broken
78. He thought of knocking again, just to piss Cohen off, but knew it would be
a waste of time. He didn’t want to add humiliation to a growing list of
emotions including frustration, impatience and mortification.
away from the dressing room door, unsure of his next move. The first case he’d
worked on as a detective and already it was going to hell. No suspects, hardly
any evidence, and a witness who was too busy doing…whatever the hell it was he
was doing to actually deign to speak to him.
A man rushed down
the hall, pointing in O’Hanlon’s direction.
“Hey! Get outta
here! The show’s gonna start any minute!”
“Do I have to
repeat myself a little louder here? You gotta clear out and take your seat!”
have a seat, wasn’t intending to stay, but the other man’s sharp stare left
little choice but to obey.
The other man
proceeded to the left and motioned for O’Hanlon to follow. As he did so, he
wondered if flashing his badge might get him in for free.
said the strangely costumed young woman standing at the reception.
O’Hanlon held out
his badge. “Police business, ma’am.”
The girl’s eyes
brightened and she stepped back, slightly fearful. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Go right
suppressed a smile. “Can I ask you something?”
“Why are you
covered in feathers?”
The girl shrugged.
“What the theater manager wants…”
and strode past her into the theater, already packed and buzzing like birds
congregating in the trees outside his Washington Heights
apartment. The noise confused him, but so did lots of things lately.
O’Hanlon had been
promoted to detective only a month before, and it was apparent to himself and
everyone else that he had extreme difficulties adjusting to the job. He’d loved
working the beat, wearing his NYPD uniform with pride and occasionally pushing
around a stray vagrant or two. But the new job brought more responsibility, a
larger workload, and a whole lot more stress.
Never mind that he
felt naked in plainclothes.
But then he
thought of Celia: beautiful Celia with her Main Line
background, who wanted nothing less than a sharp-dressed man with a real job
and a bright future.
“Think of the opportunity,” she’d exclaimed
when he told her the news of his promotion. “Think of the possibility! We can
move up the wedding by six months now!”
He didn’t know
which prospect made him more nervous.
But he couldn’t
have refused; the department was short this year and nobody else passed the
exam. O’Hanlon was given the position and a warning: make the department look
good, at all costs.
That’s all he
wanted, too, but he kept finding new ways of screwing up. Most new detectives
got their first case almost immediately after promotion, but O’Hanlon chose the
wrong time and place to celebrate, sleeping in so late his first day back he
was awarded three weeks’ desk duty.
Just when he
thought he’d kill himself if he filled out another useless report, the boss had
relented in a big way. A suspected mobster had been gunned down by another mafioso, but nobody would talk, and the
only known witness was a fortysomething musician who for whatever reason, was
the darling of Murder Inc.
“Find him, and
you’ve got an easy solve,” the boss said.
“What if I don’t?”
O’Hanlon had said, hands fidgeting.
Well, he had, and
now the bastard wouldn’t talk to him. And O’Hanlon knew what would happen: he’d
sit through this entire concert, listening to music he didn’t understand and
probably would hate just to have another crack at being shut out once more.
The curtain rose
up and O’Hanlon momentarily lost his train of thought. He leaned back in his
seat and look towards the stage, towards the assembled group of about twenty
musicians warming up their instruments, waiting to get started.
The buzz finally
halted, and the man everyone else had been waiting for strode onstage.
With the first
phrase, O’Hanlon understood what the fuss was about. After a minute, he
couldn’t think of anything else. By the time the opening piece finished,
O’Hanlon was certain of only one thing: the man the crowd had paid to see was a
Days passed, or
maybe it was only hours? He never was completely sure how the long the gig was,
because Brandwein’s playing seemed to bend time to his will. Or perhaps that of
his silver clarinet, capable of acrobatics even the jazz musicians O’Hanlon
worshipped couldn’t conquer.
And the music itself,
full of emotion and longing that seemed alternately brand new and hundreds of
years old. How could one man have the skill to tap into such a wellspring?
But O’Hanlon was
most entranced by Brandwein’s demeanor throughout, a mixture of contempt,
disdain, arrogance and strangely, understanding. Occasionally he’d play an
entire piece with his back to the crowd, yet the music would still bring
everyone – O’Hanlon included – near to tears and shouts. Then Brandwein would
look back, wipe sweat off his brow, and casually glance out toward the crowd
before moving to the next slated tune – all without a word.
“How does he do
it?” O’Hanlon said to the elderly woman sitting next to him.
She shrugged. “How
does the sun set?”
After the final
encore, O’Hanlon didn’t know who looked more spent: Brandwein or himself. The
young detective had lived through an entire lifetime in that concert, shedding
everything to give way to two simple quests: find Brandwein, and find out what
made him tick.
O’Hanlon rose when
the rest of the crowd did, but unlike them, he moved his way to the back.
Pushing others aside and ignoring their unhappy complaints, he arrived at the
dressing room, now wide open.
regarding himself in the mirror, but before O’Hanlon could say anything Leo
Cohen stepped between them.
“Didn’t you hear
what I said to you before, he can’t see you!”
“That was before
the show, Cohen. It’s finished now, and I absolutely have to –“
“Oh, let him in,”
said the musician in a voice that stunned O’Hanlon. It rasped, it shook, and it
seemed wholly unsuited to someone who had just created genius mere minutes
Cohen inched to
one side, letting O’Hanlon through.
staring unblinkingly at the detective for several moments. Then he grinned.
perfect timing. Good you’re here.”
O’Hanlon looked at
Cohen, who shrugged slightly. The words of the young woman at the ticket
counter echoed in the detective’s mind: whatever
the theater wants…
“Uh, thanks,” said
at his manager. “Well, what are you standing there for? Frankie came specially
to see me. Now you’re going to turn him away?”
“All right, all
right, you’re sorry. Go on, go home already. I don’t want you hovering over me
amazement, Cohen scurried out of the dressing room without putting up a fuss.
“Why’d he leave so fast?” asked O’Hanlon.
shrugged. “Ass-kissing alter kacker. I
don’t know. I pay him ten percent, that’s all I care.”
Brandwein’s magnetism was even more pronounced than onstage. He was shorter
than O’Hanlon expected – only five feet five, tops. His nose and lips dominated
a proudly Slavic face, befitting a man born in the Old Country. So too was
Brandwein’s thickly accented voice, each word more of an attention-grabber than
looked at himself in the mirror. “So what took you so long, Frankie? I thought
you’d be here last week.”
to play along.
“I couldn’t make
it, Mr. Brandwein. Family trouble.”
“I know those all
too well,” said Brandwein. “If my wife had her way I wouldn’t be playing music
here and there every night. I’d be home making a proper living, whatever the
hell that means.”
“What, you think
someone like me doesn’t have problems at home?”
considered the question. “Well, I…” he stammered.
around. “Never mind. You’re here now, that’s what matters. But if you expect me
to give you a music lesson, then you better see yourself out.”
“I didn’t expect
anything at all,” said O’Hanlon truthfully.
“Good. I need a
drink. Let’s go.”
up his clarinet case, humming distractedly. As O’Hanlon followed him out, he
smiled to himself. Never know where life – and strangely cuckoo musicians –
might take you.
They ended up in a
sparsely populated speakeasy further up on2nd Avenue
“I like it here,”
explained Brandwein once their drinks – vodka straight-up for him, G&T for
O’Hanlon – showed up at the bar. “I don’t get hassled too much.”
“And you don’t
like being hassled?”
“Who does? But in
my case, I get people asking me for the ‘secrets of the trade.’ Pah! Like I’d
ever give those away. You saw me tonight, on stage?”
“I don’t want
people stealing my fingering. Ever! Sons of bitches will take everything from
you when you least expect it.”
O’Hanlon spent the
next hour nursing his drink and letting Brandwein rant about everyone he hated
in the music industry.
“Ellstein, that schmuck, he can’t drum worth shit.
Always off just enough to screw up my timing. Cherniavsky, I wasn’t sorry to
leave. Wouldn’t pay me enough, the sonofabitch. And Tarras!”
turned almost purple at the mention of the man’s name. He looked at O’Hanlon
“You don’t like
him,” said O’Hanlon, hoping that by stating it he could avoid sounding
“Of course I don’t
like him! Thinks he can play better than me, just because he’s got a record
contract and I don’t? He takes Der Heyser
Bulgar and turns it into a goddamn dirge, it’s so boring.”
“Of course he’s
boring,” said a new voice. The stranger slid into the empty stool on
“Hey, Louis! Good to see you. Have a drink.” He signaled to the bartender for
paled. What was he going to do now?
When the drink
arrived, Brandwein introduced the other two men. “Louis Buchalter, this is
Frankie Mulholland. Came all the way from
just to talk to me. Gotta admire a man with that kind of gumption, you know?”
and O’Hanlon thought he’d slink straight to the ground. “Certainly do, Nifty.
You play a good gig tonight?”
“Ah, it was all
right. What’d you think, Frankie?”
O’Hanlon croaked. What had he gotten himself into? It was one thing to play
along, have a drink or few with Brandwein, and see what he inadvertently
revealed. But Buchalter showing up, that was something else entirely. The mob
man’s presence would make the NYPD higher-ups shiver, O’Hanlon reckoned.
“So there you have
it,” said Brandwein, draining his drink. “A good night.”
“It sure is,” said
Buchalter. “But what say we head somewhere else? A little livelier? You in,
O’Hanlon knew he
answered the question, but he couldn’t remember it precisely as the night
became a blurry haze. O’Hanlon drank and listened and tried desperately not to
say anything remotely cop-related. They moved to another bar, then another, and
at one point, sometime around 3 A.M., he looked up to the lecherous leer of a
frantically around the room, decorated in an obscenely bright shade of red, and
immediately wanted to burn away the newly formed image of Brandwein getting his
rocks off by a moaning blonde. He turned back to the redhead in terror.
She climbed off
him. “Gee, you sure enjoyed yourself the first time, sonny. You realize what
He didn’t dare
look anywhere else but towards the back wall.
She stormed off.
O’Hanlon, “Shouldn’t I pay you?”
The redhead turned
back. “Consider it on the house,” she snapped.
The blonde stopped
moaning. O’Hanlon thought of praying but knew it wouldn’t do him a damn bit of
good. He thought of Celia, but then he felt worse. She’d never forgive him if
she found out.
“Get outta here,”
Brandwein said to the blonde after putting a handful of bills into her bodice.
She disappeared, leaving the two men alone in the room.
at O’Hanlon in confusion. “Where’d Louis go? Wasn’t he with you?”
“I thought he was
with you, Mr. Brandwein.”
“Knock it off,
Frankie. It’s Naftule. Think after all those drinks you could skip the formal
know what to say. Most of him wanted to go home and sleep off the horrendous
headache he knew would form in the morning, not just from drink.
“You all right?”
Brandwein put a hand on O’Hanlon’s shoulder. “You don’t look so good.”
“Think maybe we
around the room like he expected someone else to show up. When nothing changed,
he shrugged. “I keep forgetting why I come back here. The girls aren’t what
they used to be. What do you think?”
“Never mind. Don’t
go home yet, we should have a last round.”
poured themselves into a cab which pulled up in front of a hotel about ten
minutes or ten years later. The two men staggered through the lobby and up the
elevator, which dropped them off in front of room 514.
“It’s on me,”
himself into one of the chairs and put his head in his hands. He wanted to go
home so badly, erase every memory of the night that wasn’t already consigned to
the trash heap of his brain.
“What, Frankie, you
didn’t enjoy yourself?”
O’Hanlon stared up
at the musician, a man he couldn’t even begin to fathom. Was this the flip side
of genius, the dark side of brilliance?
And didn’t he have
some questions to ask?
Because his tongue
was loosed and his mind was addled O’Hanlon blurted, “What do you know about
the two murders last week?”
“Why should I know
supposed to! You’re supposed to!” O’Hanlon couldn’t stop. He screamed and yelled
until his face turned blue.
When he finished
his tirade, Brandwein grinned.
“I think you
should drink a little less, Frankie. You’re going to be like this every music
lesson we have together? Tell you what.” The musician reached behind him and
thrust something towards O’Hanlon.
Practice a little, even a lot. Then come back next week and we’ll talk serious.
the object. He looked at it briefly before glancing back at Brandwein.
“So go home
Only as the cab
approached O’Hanlon’s house did he realize that Brandwein had given him his
performance clarinet by mistake.
The silver one.
He’d have a hell
of a time explaining that to Celia, too.
He never could
explain how he rose early the next morning with the worst headache of his young
life, but he did, sheer determination propelling him towards the evidence
He thrust out the
clarinet towards the bewildered storage keeper. “Take this,” said O’Hanlon,
hoping he sounded remotely sober.
“What’s it for?”
“What do you
The storage keeper
didn’t give an answer. Maybe it would have been better if he had, O’Hanlon
reflected on the way back to the office.
Because he didn’t
really have one, either.
“Hey, Frank, take
a look at this!”
not to hear it. He didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be sorting through
whatever useless garbage the Department had accrued, and certainly didn’t want
to be standing in a dingy little back room with whippersnappers like Mickey
“Frank, did you hear me? Look at this. You
won’t believe your eyes!”
“I’ve been here
almost forty years, Gallagher. Not a hell of a lot surprises me.”
“Come on, won’t
you at least see what it is?” said Gallagher.
O’Hanlon knew what
would happen next. He’d ignore it some more, the kid would start whining and
pouting and then it could get nasty. Better to humor him and get on with
sifting through the rest of this shit.
He walked over to
where Gallagher stood. The kid’s hands were empty.
said impatiently, “What is this mystery item?”
through the box of what used to be highly classified NYPD evidence, but was now
simply stuff to sell cheap after at least twenty years of storage. O’Hanlon
figured whatever it was that excited the kid so much, it would probably fetch
maybe twenty bucks, tops.
lit up, and he lifted something out of the box. Something long, thin and
Look at the craftsmanship on this!”
and nearly had a heart attack.
have seen the older man’s color change to green. “Frank? Are you okay? What’s
What’s wrong is
that my life just flashed before my fucking eyes, O’Hanlon thought. What’s
wrong is that I finally have to make good on a promise.
What’s wrong is
that I can’t do this by myself.
“I hate when you
do that, Frank! You always shut me out. We’ve been working together six months
now, going through item after item for these police auctions, and I swear, you
never say a damn thing worthwhile to me at all. That’s not a good way to treat
a partner, is it?”
“It’s not that.”
“Like hell it
isn’t. You show up here every morning, angry at the goddamn world because you
think you don’t belong here. Who does? I know I don’t. But I try to do the best
job I can, try to treat it like a contest. That maybe amidst the thousands of
utter junk there’ll be buried treasure. Even if it’ll never be mine, like that
clarinet you’re holding.” Gallagher’s expression changed. “Hey, it means
something to you, doesn’t it? Is that what’s getting your goat?”
O’Hanlon faced his
so-called partner. Mickey Gallagher was the epitome of bland: average height,
average weight, average looks, nothing special. The only thing worth noticing
was his voice, a musically high tenor that seemed a lousy fit for someone so
average. And at twenty-three, so callow. Which O’Hanlon could safely say wasn’t
a word ever used to describe him, whether at twenty-three or his current
But maybe the kid
had a point. O’Hanlon’s career had been derailed decades ago, and he’d long
accepted he’d never get promoted beyond desk duty. Moving to the police auction
unit fifteen years ago was more of a blessing than he would ever admit to
anyone, and it was a smooth ride to retirement from there than just about
His marriage had
died soon after, when Celia finally realized his ambitions would never live up
to hers. Not that he missed her. Or anyone, for that matter.
So why not give a
little? Open up a bit?
Someone had to
hear the story. Why not Gallagher?
said haltingly, “That clarinet means something to me.”
“How much time we
got in here?” asked O’Hanlon.
one-thirty, Frank. We’ve got till four.”
“Good.” He picked
up the clarinet and gave it a closer look. He couldn’t believe what good shape
it was in.
“I gotta go,” O’Hanlon said. “You can cover
“But Frank! You
It was too late.
O’Hanlon strode out, taking the clarinet with him.
* * *
A couple of phone
calls and a hastily drawn map was all O’Hanlon needed to make his way towards
the Danziger Home for the Aged. He drove past Allentown, taking exit 8 off the highway and
going about five hundred yards before pulling up to the ugliest building he’d
Figures that a
musician would be sent to die here, O’Hanlon thought.
He’d wrapped the
clarinet carefully and stored it in a leather bag in a last-gasp attempt to
keep it in the best condition. Even if it probably didn’t matter: would
Brandwein be able to play it anymore?
It surprised O’Hanlon
that he needed to know.
He was greeted at
the door by rows of wheelchair-bound patients, all eyeing him like he was fresh
meat. Thank god he wasn’t here to see any of these decaying senior citizens;
just looking at them made him want to cut out as quickly as possible.
“May I help you?”
voice of the receptionist broke through O’Hanlon’s thoughts.
“I’m here to see
“Sign in. Room
He followed the
directions exactly and soon stood in front of a pale yellow room, door wide
open. O’Hanlon thought of leaving. Don’t be a fool, he chastised himself, when you’ve
come all this way.
He walked in and
was shocked by what he saw.
hooked up to several tubes, one coming out of his nose, the other from his
throat. If there was to be a conversation it would be one-sided at best.
O’Hanlon cast his
eyes down, not wanting to look at the fallen image of the musician he had
worshiped and hated.
Who was Naftule
Brandwein? Curious enigma, or something else?
the bag and took out the clarinet. He unwrapped it and held it out towards
“I’m sorry,” said
O’Hanlon, stumbling over his words. “I was in way over my head that night. So
lost, looking for something. I’m not even sure what it was, to be honest. I should
never have taken this in the first place. It didn’t prove anything, didn’t help
in any way, and I robbed you of the thing you valued most. Truth is, I forgot
about it until the damn thing showed up the other day, but now I understand why
I needed to be reminded.”
flickered with understanding. And then, or at least it seemed that way to
O’Hanlon, a trace of amusement.
“Think it’s too
late for a music lesson?”
Brandwein held up
the long-lost clarinet to his lips. And even though the instrument emitted a
single ghost note before the clarinetist set it down on his lap, it was the
sweetest sound Frank O’Hanlon ever heard in his entire life.