Trouble in the Brasses
Trouble in the Brasses
"WHY THE POLICE, LUCY?"
Lady Rhys's sharp question didn't cause the trim, elderly woman in the smart gray flannel suit to turn a hair. "Because that was the fastest way to get ambulance service, Lady Rhys. Besides, if it turns out there's something really wrong with Wilhelm, we'd have to call them anyway."
"Really wrong" was carrying euphemism to its outermost limit, Madoc thought. The poor chap was dead as last week's news; it needn't have taken the uniformed officer or the white-coated intern with the stethoscope to determine that. The young intern was straightening up now, turning to Lady Rhys as the obvious person in charge even though Sir Emlyn was now standing with his usual appearance of gentle melancholy a step or two behind her.
"He's gone, I'm afraid. Would you happen to know whether he had any history of chronic illness?"
"Oh yes," her ladyship replied. "Wilhelm had a terrible stomach, and he wouldn't stop eating things he wasn't supposed to have. Fried fish, you know, and heavy pastries and far too much coffee. And-"
Lady Rhys whipped a lace-trimmed handkerchief out of her sleeve and pressed it to her mouth. Lucy took over.
"Lady Rhys is quite right. It was chronic bleeding ulcers, I believe. Poor Wilhelm was always a terrible glutton."
"You knew him pretty well, then?" the policeman asked her.
"I'd known him most of my life, off and on. We played together in the Champlain Symphony when we were both starting out, and later in the Sackbut Sextet. After I joined the Wagstaffe Symphony as a horn player quite some years ago, I played in the same section with him. I don't know whether you realize it, Officer, but an orchestra exists in a little world of its own, especially when it's on tour, as we are now. We get very close to each other. As director of operations, I'm the one who's supposed to keep our little world spinning, so I have to be aware of things like the special diet problems of certain orchestra members. I tried to keep Wilhelm off the fried clams and fried chicken and fried this and fried that, but he had a positive passion for grease. Lately he'd been stuffing worse than ever, it seemed."
"Did he show any other suicidal impulses?" the intern asked.
Lucy Shadd stared at him. "I'm not sure I know what you mean, Doctor."
"A person who has a known disability and persists in doing things that make it worse is playing Russian roulette with his life," the young man answered pedantically. "Usually it's because the person is depressed and has a subconscious or maybe even conscious urge to get his misery over with. Would you say your friend here was more down in the mouth than usual?"
Lucy looked at Lady Rhys, who shook her head.
"If he was, I certainly didn't notice. It seems to me he went right on telling his dirty stories and playing his decidedly unfunny practical jokes much as usual."
"He put a lump of plastic dog do in my instrument case only yesterday," a nearby violist volunteered. "I'd say he was still full of the old pep and vinegar."
"Oh, you wouldn't see anything wrong with anybody if he dropped dead at your-" She choked a bit. "Actually, Doctor, I have to say Wilhelm had good reason to be depressed, even aside from his stomach. He was losing his embouchure."
"It's something that happens to wind players, particularly the brasses. One's lip muscles become so painful from the constant strain that one simply can't endure to play any longer. That's why I myself work backstage nowadays instead of out front. At least I was able to adapt when it happened to me, but Wilhelm was such a dunderhead-except about the horn. He was a superb French horn player. Nobody can take that away from him."
Lucy Shadd sounded rather fierce, and as if she'd just about run out of composure. Lady Rhys laid a diamond-laden hand on her shoulder.