This sucks,” Dexter Wasson said as he plopped down in the chair next to Sophie.
“The big one,” agreed Mason Selvas, on her other side.
“Shut up!” Sophie hissed. “The assembly is about to start.”
Backpacks jostled against the blonde wood seats in the Warren Middle School auditorium as students filed in. Teachers and guidance counselors stood in the aisles, on alert to keep students from cuddling or fighting, whichever seemed like the bigger crisis.
“I can’t believe they are making us all sit here and listen to some girl play the violin,” Mason said.
“Some girl? Really, Mason?” Sophie’s voice dripped sweet acid. “Like the girl who put you on the mat three times last week?” The three had been carpooling to tae kwon do classes since elementary school.
“And who also plays violin?” Dexter added.
“You were supposed to take me down,” Mason said loftily. “That’s why I was there. They picked me because they knew I could take a punch.”
Dex sniggered. “Dude, you took all the punches.”
Mason’s cheeks turned pink. He started to object, but Sophie cut him off with an elbow jab.
“Ow!” the big redhead rubbed his ribs.
“Would you idiots please shut up?” Sophie repeated. “I want to hear the music.”
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Mason said.
At that moment, Dr. Gallart, the principal, walked onto the auditorium stage.
He waited patiently for the hubbub to die down, then stepped up to a microphone mounted on a chrome stand at the center of the tiny stage.
“Good morning,” the principal said. “Thanks to you all for getting in and getting situated quickly and quietly. I know our special guests appreciate your consideration. Now, before we get started…”
But whatever the principal was about to say was lost as every light in the room suddenly went out. This left the windowless space in near complete darkness even though it was ten-thirty in the morning.
But in the instant between shocked silence and the inevitable rising din of questions and complaints, a long, amplified note from a bass guitar rang out followed almost immediately by the sharp report of a drum beat, loud and steady, in time with the heartbeats of the gathered students. A high note soared above the rhythm, and just as suddenly as the lights had gone out, they returned. Except now in the exact same spot where the principal had stood there was now a woman, her back bent at a nearly impossible angle. A cherry-red violin nestled under her chin, bow extended straight up toward the ceiling. She was barefoot, wearing a leotard and skirt that was comprised mainly of multi-colored fabric strips which shimmered in the spotlight.
She struck a second note and the beat sped up. A keyboardist, drummer, and bassist were visible behind her. The violinist followed at first but then took over the tempo, dashing ahead of the ensemble like a runner in the zone, demanding the other musicians follow her. Then she added movement, kicking each leg out below the knee, not unlike an Irish step dancer. She swept and spun across the stage, sliding up to each of the other musicians in turn so that each had a moment with her in the spotlight.
Someone started to clap and before long the entire auditorium had joined in, feeding the quartet as the music worked its way to a thundering crescendo, before ending with each musician playing the three concluding notes of the piece in unison and louder than a lot of rock bands.
The musicians froze as the last notes echoed against the concrete walls before finally fading to silence.
For about ten seconds.
Then applause broke out and the band relaxed, smiling as the kids clapped and cheered. Mason whooped louder than anyone else, fist in the air.
As the applause died down, the woman approached the microphone.
“Thank you so much,” she said softly but with a twinkle in her eye. “So, you liked that?”
Her smile got wider at the answering roar. “Well, it might interest you to know that it was written more than two hundred years ago by a guy whose music has been played more than all of today’s pop artists put together. His name was Mozart. Now, we have maybe taken just a few liberties with his original composition, but Mozart loved nothing more than surprising his audience. I think he’d approve.”
She paused, taking a moment to tune her instrument. “Would you like to hear some more?” she asked.
The room roared once again. The violinist smiled and nodded to the drummer who counted off the next tune.
This was one even middle schoolers could recognize immediately, though few could identify it as the beginning to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Like the first selection, it was embellished with rock and roll beats, some paying homage to pop versions of the song that the older teachers recognized, and others completely original.
The music then continued in the same vein. Classical pieces with a modern flair alternated with pop songs done in a classical style that were somehow almost as much fun as the original versions the kids watched on YouTube. At one point, the bass player, a woman with spiky blonde hair, took the mic and rapped a hip-hop verse to Copland’s Rodeo.
After nearly an hour, the violinist paused and introduced the other three musicians. “And my name is Mary Logan,” she finished, then had to wait nearly a minute for the applause to die down. She acknowledged it with a nod.
“You know, a musician enjoys nothing more than taking an old song and finding a way to make it sound new. But there is also something to be said for sticking to the original notes. That’s what we do in the symphony orchestra, and in its own way, that music has just as much power and emotion as what we played today.”
She paused, taking a swig from a water bottle at her feet. “Fact is, we couldn’t take those songs and do something new with them without knowing the originals backward and forwards. Now, we would love it if you all left here today as fans of classical music. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to remind you that there is so much great music out there that you haven’t had a chance to hear. I hope that the next time someone asks you to check out something you haven’t heard before, you’ll give it a chance.”
She went on to explain how students and their families could come to an upcoming symphony concert for free.
“We have time for one more. It’s a song that…” she paused. “…A good friend of mine introduced me to. And it’s become one of our favorites to play.”
And with that, she launched into the song, which began with her playing a refrain by herself. She was joined by the pianist, a skinny man whose long black hair spilled down his collar.
Sophie sat up straight in her seat. “‘Jungleland,’’ she murmured. “That figures.”
“Shh,” Dexter hissed.
Few in the room were any more familiar with Bruce Springsteen than they were with Mozart, but the quartet brought fire and fury to the song, communicating its message of love drowned by the violence of the streets nearly as effectively as The Boss himself, all without singing a single lyric.
Mary’s violin took the place of Springsteen’s voice for the long, plaintive wail that closed the song. She turned toward the pianist and met his eyes as he gently took up the final, quiet phrase which brought the song to its lonely, desperate conclusion. Four hundred teenaged bodies sat stock-still as the last notes echoed in the auditorium before erupting again in cheers and footstomps.
Mary tucked an errant strand of auburn hair behind her ear and bowed. Then she reached out her hands, still holding violin and bow, to her bandmates. They joined her and all bowed bowing together.
“Whoa,” Dex breathed, leaning back in his chair.
Sophie jumped up, shrugging quickly into her backpack.
“What’s the hurry?” Mason asked. “It’s going to take hours to get everyone out of here.”
“I want to talk to her,” Sophie said. “See you in fourth hour.”
She fought upstream in the exact opposite direction of the herd trying to exit. But since no one was that anxious to get to fourth hour, she soon found herself at the top of the short stairway that led to the stage.
The musicians were packing up their gear. Mary looked up as Sophie approached.
“Hi,” she said kindly.
Suddenly, Sophie’s throat went dry. She looked at the woman, mouth working, but nothing came out.
“Did you want tickets to the concert?” Mary asked gently.
Sophie shook her head.
Okay, dummy. Breathe. She probably already thinks you’re a total spaz.
“I—I just wanted to tell you I really enjoyed the music.”
“Um. Especially the last song.”
Mary raised an eyebrow. “Really? You know that song?”
“I’m impressed. Bruce Springsteen isn’t usually the first choice of most girls your age.”
“My dad is always playing that stuff.”
“Ah. That explains a lot. My friend…the one I mentioned…It was one of his favorites. His dad influenced his musical tastes, too.”
A faraway look came into the woman’s eyes. “Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, The Eagles. And don’t even get me started on Al Stewart. He loved them all. And you never wanted to listen to the radio with him. ‘This is the second-best Elton John song,’ he would pronounce. Or ‘God Only Knows’ is the most perfect pop song ever written.”
She stopped and looked at Sophie with a confused frown. “I’m sorry, you didn’t come up here to listen to me reminisce. What can I do for you?”
Sophie screwed up her courage. Everything rested on how this lady reacted to her next question.
“You miss him, don’t you?”
Sophie took a deep breath.
Don’t chicken out now. “Your friend. It’s Mr. Becker, isn’t it?”
Mary’s jaw dropped. “How…how do you know Trav?”
“He helped me.”
“He…” Mary cocked her head and examined Sophie more closely. “Wait. I know you. You’re one of the girls who was kidnapped.”
“Oh, honey, how are you doing?” Mary reached out and took Sophie by the shoulders. “Are you okay? I can’t even imagine what you went through.”
“I’m fine, Miss Logan.”
“Please call me Mary.”
“But what do you mean Trav helped you?” Mary frowned again. “Trav wasn’t involved. He was…It was just before…” Her voice trailed off.
“Just before he died?”
“Yes.” Mary shook her head. “I don’t understand. What do you mean he helped you?”
She took Sophie gently by the arm and guided her out of earshot of the other musicians.
“In fact,” she continued, speaking softly, “Trav was actually being held in a cell when they found you. There were a lot of people around that day. Maybe you just heard his name and confused it with someone else.”
Sophie shook her head firmly. “No! No one believes me, but I know it!” She kept her tone soft, but her whisper was fierce. “He was there. And there was a woman, too. Morgan.”
“The psychic. Yes, I knew that, even though it didn’t make the media. But honey, like I said, Trav was at the police station the whole time. I’m sorry, but he couldn’t have been with you.”
Sophie nodded. She’d been expecting this. Time to bring out the big gun.
“How did he die?”
“Trav?” Mary frowned, perplexed by the turn in their conversation. “Well, he…”
Her voice trailed off, and she began again.
“It was…sudden,” she finished. Her lips tightened and her eyes darted from side to side.
Sophie watched as a fine line of perspiration broke out on Mary’s forehead. She hated making the woman uncomfortable, but she had come too far to back away now. Sophie had despaired of finding anyone who would believe her story. But when she realized that the arts outreach program coming to her school was led by Trav Becker’s girlfriend, she knew this was her chance to solve a mystery that no one else even knew existed. The next thing she asked would either pierce Mary’s mental fog or have her calling Sophie’s principal.
“What was the funeral like?”
Mary’s mouth opened, then closed. Her eyes narrowed. “Why would you ask me that?” she demanded.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Sophie said. “I’ll leave you alone if you want. But only if you can tell me something about Trav Becker’s funeral. Just one thing. Anything.”
“Fine,” Mary replied, her lips pressing into a white line her cherry-colored lipstick couldn’t hide. “It was a very nice service. Trav’s…”
Mary’s voice trailed off again.
“I was there!” she whispered fiercely. “Why can’t I remember?”
“Are you sure you were there?” Sophie asked.
“Of course I was there! I had to be there!” Mary’s voice caught and her eyes began to fill with tears. “Why wasn’t I there?”
“Something’s not right,” Sophie said urgently. “I remember him. He rescued us! But he said he couldn’t be with us when we were found. And then he was just…gone. Later, people said he died. But I checked. There was nothing in the newspaper or on the internet. One day he was here. And the next…he just wasn’t.”
Sophie grabbed Mary’s hand. “Please! You have to believe me.”
Mary looked at the teenager for a long time, and Sophie watched as the tears in her eyes disappeared, replaced by steel.
“Well, you’re right about one thing,” Mary said grimly. “Something is wrong. And I’m going to find out what it is.”
“Me, too,” Sophie said quickly.
The violinist looked at the girl again for a long time. Just when Sophie was sure it was because she was trying to figure out a way to tell Sophie to butt out, Mary nodded.
“Of course. And I know just who is going to help us.”