Deadly Overtures: A Music Lover's Mystery

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Dedication

For Helen Lee

 

Chapter One

W
HEN
I
ENTERED
the Abrams Center for the Performing Arts, a buzz of activity greeted me. As the stage door shut behind me, I stood still for a moment, taking in the sights and sounds. Two men emerged from a room farther along the corridor and disappeared around a corner. A woman paced the hall as she spoke on a cell phone, chattering away in French to whoever was on the other end of the line. Voices rumbled in the distance, and somewhere not too far off, something hit a hard surface with a bump and a clang.

My violin in hand, I set off along the corridor, barely managing to dodge the French-speaking woman when she gestured wildly, the tempo and volume of her chatter increasing. As I continued onward, a woman in a pantsuit and heels exited a room to my right and set off briskly along the hallway ahead of me, a clipboard in hand. A young man in a sweater vest and hipster glasses hurried along behind her, clutching two take-out coffee cups.

While they rushed along, I followed in their wake at a more sedate pace, my destination the musicians’ lounge farther along the hallway. Voices from the theater’s back rooms floated down the corridor toward me and a hum of energy tickled my skin. Although it was the evening of the dress rehearsal for the Point Grey Philharmonic’s latest concert, the theater was more of a hub of activity than was usual on such an occasion. That was because the concert taking place the following night was no ordinary concert.

The Point Grey Philharmonic, or PGP, was hosting a young composers’ competition, and the entrants—all under the age of thirty—had been whittled down to four finalists. The upcoming concert would feature the pieces composed by two of the finalists, while the other two qualifying compositions would be performed in a second concert one week later. So instead of just the usual musicians and conductor present for the dress rehearsal, there were also the competition organizers, the finalists, a recording engineer, and a few extra sets of hands.

As I made my way toward the musicians’ lounge, I kept my eyes open for my best friend, JT. He wasn’t a member of the orchestra—although he was a musician—but he worked as a recording engineer, and the PGP had hired him to record the concerts and turn them into an album. I didn’t see any sign of JT before I reached the lounge, however, and I figured he was probably out in the theater proper, setting up his equipment and preparing for the upcoming sound check.

The door to the lounge stood open and half a dozen people were already present when I walked in. As I headed for my locker, I waved to Katie Urbina, a fellow second violinist. Since I’d arrived quite early, I stashed my instrument in my locker for the time being and shrugged out of my coat. As I hung it up, Katie came across the room to join me.

“It’s chilly out there today, isn’t it?”

I pulled off my gloves and wiggled my cold fingers, almost numb from the frosty November weather. “You can say that again.”

Once I’d tossed my gloves onto the shelf in my locker, I swept my gaze across the room, checking to see who else was already present. My stand partner, Mikayla Deinhardt, wasn’t in the room, but the woman who qualified as my least favorite person was seated on one of the couches, her attention focused on her phone.

Elena Vasilyeva was the PGP’s concertmaster and an extremely talented violinist. She had glamorous looks to go with her musical brilliance, her cascading blond hair always perfect, her figure like that of a lingerie model. Her personality, however, wasn’t at the same level as her looks and talent.

Perhaps my opinion of her was somewhat biased. I had, after all, discovered the previous spring that Elena was in a relationship with Maestro Hans Clausen at the same time as I was. But there was more to my opinion than that. Elena seemed to think she was superior to everyone, and in my mind she qualified as a first-class snob. I did my best to limit my dealings with her, and as I stood there in the musicians’ lounge, I quickly shifted my attention away from her.

“What’s Pavlina’s last name again?” I asked Katie, nodding at the twenty-something finalist who was across the room, talking with Leanne, the PGP’s assistant conductor. “She looks familiar, but I can’t think why.”

“Nicolova,” Katie replied. “Most people are expecting her to win the competition. She probably looks familiar because she was on the cover of the last issue of
Classical Spotlight
.”

A memory surfaced. “Right. That’s it.”

Katie lowered her voice to a whisper. “I heard a rumor about that.”

“Oh?” I said, my curiosity piqued. “What kind of rumor?”

Katie cast a quick glance in Elena’s direction before dishing out the gossip. “Did you notice there was an article about Elena in that issue of the magazine too?”

“Yes.” I’d noticed, but I’d quickly flipped past that article.

“Well, I heard that Elena was supposed to be featured on the cover, but they ended up burying her article in the middle of the magazine and put Pavlina on the cover instead.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I bet Elena wasn’t thrilled.”

My eyes wandered back to the subject of our conversation. As Pavlina let out a burst of laughter in response to something Leanne said, Elena shot a cold, venomous glance in her direction.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Katie whispered.

As the concertmaster tossed her hair over her shoulder and fixed her eyes back on her phone, Katie and I turned away from her.

“I’m going to grab something to eat from the vending machine,” Katie said. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Her wallet in hand, she left the lounge. Still standing by my locker, I surreptitiously studied Pavlina as she continued to chat with Leanne. As in the photo that had graced the cover of the latest issue of
Classical Spotlight
, Pavlina wore several necklaces and rings. At least half a dozen bangles encircled her left wrist, while a single charm bracelet dangled from her right one. Like Elena, Pavlina had long, fair hair, but she had a stylishly rumpled look going on, whereas every lock of Elena’s hair was glossy and smooth.

If Pavlina was aware of Elena’s presence, she gave no indication of it. I doubted she’d be the type to let Elena get to her anyway. From what I’d read about Pavlina in the magazine, she was a rising star with plenty of confidence and moxie. She was being touted as one of the most innovative and inventive young composers in North America, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised that she was considered the frontrunner in the competition.

I had to admit, at least to myself, that knowing Pavlina had been featured on the cover of the magazine instead of Elena brought me a sense of glee. Nevertheless, I decided not to dwell on my delight and instead dug through my quilted tote bag until I came up with a granola bar.

Although I earned some money from playing in the Point Grey Philharmonic, my main income came from teaching private violin lessons. I’d taught lessons all afternoon and had only munched my way through an apple before heading for the theater. At the time, a piece of fruit had seemed like a good enough supper, but now my stomach was complaining of insufficient fuel and I didn’t want it grumbling all the way through the dress rehearsal.

As I tore open the wrapper and took a bite of the granola bar, the clipboard-wielding woman I’d spotted upon my arrival strode briskly into the lounge, still followed by the guy in the sweater vest and hipster glasses. Two others entered the lounge in their wake, one a scrawny, fair-haired young man who I didn’t recognize. The other was Dongmei, the younger sister of one of my friends from university. Dongmei was one of the finalists, and I was secretly hoping she’d win the top prize, despite the stiff competition.

“Finalists, gather around, please,” the woman with the clipboard called out.

I figured she must be Olivia Hutchcraft, the competition’s coordinator.

“Dongmei,” she said as she checked something off on her clipboard. She nodded at the scrawny young man and checked off another item. “Sherwin.” As Pavlina and a guy with dark hair joined the group, Olivia made two more checkmarks. “Pavlina and Ethan. Good.”

The coordinator went on to rattle off instructions to the finalists before ensuring that none of them had any unanswered questions.

“We’ve got the program for tomorrow night, if you’d like to keep one as a souvenir, Pavlina and Sherwin.” She flicked her hand at Mr. Sweater Vest. “Sasha, hand those out, would you?”

He did as asked, and after a few more words for the finalists, Olivia headed out of the lounge as briskly as she’d arrived, Sasha once again hurrying after her.

Ethan, the dark-haired finalist, snatched Sherwin’s copy of the program away from him and opened it. As he ran his eyes over the print inside, he gave a derisive snort. “ ‘Edgy and innovative,’ ” he read from the program, “ ‘Nicolova’s music straddles the line between classical and contemporary, with hauntingly beautiful results.’ ” He snorted again. “With cacophonous results, more like.”

“Jealousy doesn’t become you, Ethan,” Pavlina said with equal scorn.

He flicked the program back at Sherwin while addressing Pavlina. “I’m not jealous of anyone, least of all you.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“Amateurs,” Ethan muttered as he turned for the door.

Pavlina shook her head once he was gone. Dongmei and Sherwin looked uncomfortable and I didn’t blame them. I wasn’t enjoying the situation myself, and I was more removed from it than they were.

Deciding to escape the tense and awkward atmosphere, I tossed my empty granola bar wrapper in the trash and left the lounge to go in search of JT. As I made my way along the red-carpeted hallway, I passed a few people I recognized and a few I didn’t. I exchanged hellos and smiles, but didn’t stop to chat with anyone.

When I slipped through the door that led to the wings of the stage, I paused for a moment to allow my eyes to adjust to the change in lighting. Although the stage was currently lit from above, the wings were filled mostly with shadows. Once I could see well enough to avoid any mishaps, I descended a short staircase and passed through the door that would take me into the theater. The rows and rows of red seats were currently empty, as was the balcony, but movement near the stage drew my attention.

JT was there with Cameron Rask, the newest member of his band, cables and equipment on the floor around them. As I turned in their direction, Cameron said something to JT and headed my way.

“Hey, Midori,” he said as he passed me without stopping.

“Hi, Cameron,” I returned.

At the sound of my voice, JT glanced up from the jumble of equipment.

“Hey,” he said with a grin.

“Hey yourself. Everything going all right?”

“Yep. Just getting the mics set up.”

“Cameron’s helping you out?”

“Yes.” JT glanced past me, but Cameron had disappeared from sight a moment earlier. “He lost his job last week so I asked him if he wanted to earn a bit of cash.”

I perched on the arm of one of the front-row seats. “That’s too bad about his job, but nice of you to help him out like that.”

“Just doing what I can.” JT attached a microphone to a stand before lifting the entire contraption and setting it on the stage above him.

As he wound up what appeared to be a spare cable, I watched him work, marveling not for the first time at what a great guy he was. Not only was he always there for his friends—including me—he had a long list of talents. He worked as a recording engineer, he composed music for a locally filmed sci-fi TV show, and he played several instruments, including the guitar and piano. When I added his good looks to all those qualities, it was no wonder I’d fallen in love with him.

“Everything okay?” he asked when he caught me watching him.

“Perfect.”

“You looked deep in thought there.”

“I was just admiring you.”

He grinned at me. “Because of my rugged good looks and impressive physique?”

I rolled my eyes, even though he was partly right. “I meant I was admiring the fact that you’re so good at so many things.”

“So are you.”

I wasn’t sure about that, but it was nice he thought that was the case.

“How are things backstage?” he asked.

“Tense. Unpleasant, even. There’s enough animosity in the musicians’ lounge to fill the entire building.” I explained about the distinct lack of admiration between Pavlina and Ethan. “And Elena doesn’t seem too fond of Pavlina either.”

“I guess there’s bound to be some bad blood when artistic egos are involved.”

“True enough.”

Movement up on the stage drew my eye. A couple of musicians were heading for their seats and Maestro Hans Clausen had emerged from the wings, deep in conversation with his assistant, Leanne.

“I need to have a chat with Clausen,” JT said when he noticed the maestro.

“A professional one, right?” I asked, knowing JT wasn’t Hans’s biggest fan by a long shot.

“Keeping things professional with someone I don’t much like is one of my talents,” he replied with a grin.

“Good,” I said with relief. “Because the last thing we need is spilled blood.”

JT
AND
I parted ways at the top of the staircase leading to the wings of the stage. As he set off to chat with Hans about the equipment setup, I headed in the direction of the musicians’ lounge. Hopefully the atmosphere in the room wouldn’t be quite as tense as when I’d left, but I wasn’t about to hold my breath. Hell would probably freeze over before Pavlina and Ethan became friends.

On my way down the red-carpeted hall, I spotted Cameron leaning against the wall, tapping out a message on his phone. When he glanced up and saw me approaching, he quickly shoved his phone in the pocket of his jeans and gave me an uneasy smile before hurrying off toward the stage. I paused, watching him go, puzzled by his skittishness.

Shaking my head, I continued on, returning to the lounge, where I retrieved my violin from my locker. Fortunately, the four finalists had dispersed to different corners of the room and Elena had disappeared entirely, so I didn’t have to dodge any murderous looks or scornful remarks when I entered the room. By the time I had my instrument and folder of music out of my locker, my stand partner, Mikayla, had arrived. Together we made our way to the stage and tuned our instruments while more musicians filled in around us.

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