This is a story being told in six sentence segments as part of Zoe's Six Sentence Stories. Each segment is prefaced by the cue word.
He left the largest envelope that had come in the mail for last, tending to the one bill, the advertisement for a new dental office, and the "final notice" from the credit union that he knew would not be final, telling him he wasn't taking full advantage of their special insurance rates. Bill in the folder, other two items into the recycle bin, he turned the large mailer over, figuring it to be one more piece of junk mail until he noticed that the return address was his parents' home in town, but the postmark was from out of state, in fact from the city in which he'd gone to college.
Slitting it with his letter opener, the one his kids thought was hopelessly old fashioned, he was startled when he turned it up and a key dropped out from between several papers. He managed to catch the key, thus keeping it from doing the bounce-under-the-hardest-to-move-object-in-the-room that was his usual luck, and then dropped the papers.
As he gathered the scattered pile, he noticed it was sheets of a musical score, hand written. Across the bottom of the final sheet he recognized his old head professor's handwriting, the words pulling him back across the miles and years: Figure it out, Jonathan.
His mind drifted back across years and miles, and he was once again listening to that voice. "Figure it out, Jonathan!" Professor Denarius said, tapping on his music stand with the baton.
"Feel the music, don't just play it, let it live through you the way I know you can."
Jonathan tried to let go, to let the music move him, he was too tense and knew it, and as he tried to take a deep breath, he was called back from his reverie.
"What's in the mail, Pop?" his son Alex, of the irreverent grin, brought him back to the present with a suddenness that stunned him.
"A piece of mail for me from someone who died," he answered before he could filter his response.
"Wow, that must have been a shock," Alex said in a rather subdued voice.
"My music professor from college died a couple of weeks ago. As much as I wanted to travel back to the campus for the funeral, there was too much going on at work for me to take time off, and now this shows up in the mail," he gestured to the pile of papers he had loosely gathered back together.
The yellow of the mailing envelope stuck out from under the white papers, and Alex deftly slipped it out from the bottom without ruffling them. "Curious, the return address is Grandma and Grandpa's address here in town!"
"Professor Denarius never left anything to chance; whoever was instructed to mail it was told, I'm sure, to use that address in case I had moved."
Picking up one of the sheets of music, Alex noted, "Well, it's easy to see who taught you to make your musical notations as neatly as you do; too bad it didn't rub off on your regular handwriting!"
"Be careful there, son," Jonathan said, giving him the side-eye, "my chicken-scratch is still more legible than yours!"
"What does he mean by, 'Figure it out, Jonathan'?" Alex asked, pointing to the note at the bottom of the last page.
"It probably means he left me something that he wanted me to have after he was gone, and I have to figure out what and where it is."
"Figure it out by what, playing the score he wrote?"
"Knowing Professor Denarius, playing it will just be the beginning."
Walking into the classroom, he noted most of the chairs in the circle were taken either by a person or the person's instrument, denoting a saving of the place for the owner.
"Hey, new guy, come sit by me!" he heard a stage whisper from the left side of the room; turning that way, he saw the biggest violin player he'd ever encountered waving him over. The young man had hands so big he wondered how they could even handle the instrument without breaking it into matchsticks.
"Hi, I'm Jonathan," he said as he gingerly took a seat next to the behemoth, who said, "I'm Buddy, and this is my first day, too; we new guys need to stick together!"
Before Jonathan could ask what gave him away as a new guy, suddenly it seemed all the chairs were filled, everyone silently taking their place; only one seat was left with a very battered case perched on it.
"I wonder whose beat up wreck that is," Buddy said with a grin, and he and Jonathan froze as Professor Denarius stepped out from behind them, crossed over to the case with a bound and pulled out an Amati, and said, "This would be mine."
"Uncle Buddy played violin?" Alex asked with a tone of voice that sat on the border between unbelief and an accusation of lying.
"Our friend Buddy is one of the most talented musicians I've ever known. His parents started him on violin when he was barely two, and when he kept growing so much bigger than the other kids his age, they got him a viola, then a cello, and finally a bass. He brought all four to college and took master classes in all of them."
"Phew!" Alex exclaimed, and Jonathan burst out laughing, saying, "You should have seen how he would go to a street corner and pretend to be the giant clown with a violin, as if he didn't know what to do with it. Once people were laughing enough, he'd play it and shock them into silence, and usually earn enough coins and dollars to take us both out for a cheap supper when we were tired of the cafeteria food."
"What are you two poring over?" Stacy asked, peeking over her father's and brother's shoulders, "another piece of music from an ambitious student trying to write the latest hit?"
They were sitting side by side on the piano bench, and Jonathan turned to look at his daughter and say, "Sorry, I didn't even hear you come in."
"This piece of music must be fascinating, then," she continued.
"It is, Dad will have to tell you about it, I've got to get to my evening class," Alex got up and noted, "but don't let him bend your brain on it too much, we've been at it all afternoon and I'm about done in."
"It's a musical puzzle or riddle of some kind from my head professor at college, and I have to solve it to figure out what he was getting at," Jonathan explained as Alex left and Stacy took his place on the piano bench.
"Riddle, or a message in musical code?" she asked as she riffled through the pages, to which he responded, "I hadn't thought about a musical code!"
"Hey, Buddy, it sounds like the joint is jumping there!" Jonathan said after answering the phone and hearing what he could only assume was a party on the other end.
"It usually is -- hey, guys, pipe down, I'm on the horn! -- the kids keep it going, they want to keep jamming after lessons are done. Listen, I know you weren't able to get to Professor Denarius' funeral, but did you get something weird in the mail recently?"
"Yes, I did, a key and a musical score in his handwriting, with a note to 'Figure it out, Jonathan.' How about you?"
"Yeah, his conducting baton and a note that said, 'Work with Jonathan.'"
"My daughter reminded me about the use of musical codes, and I've been doing a bit of research," Jonathan told Buddy as they sat down to pore over the sheets of paper.
"Where is Stacy tonight, I haven't seen her in a long time," Buddy asked.
"She's at a cast party for her play, she'll be in later, and so will Alex, he has an evening class," Jonathan stifled a sigh.
"Good, and while they are here we need to make plans to get the families together again..." Buddy started, and Jonathan interrupted with laughter.
"Same ol' Buddy, after all these years, it's so hard to keep you on track about anything that doesn't involve actually playing an instrument!"
Buddy grinned and with the familiarity of years of friendship shot back, "Same ol' Jonathan, always so focused and on task!"
Jonathan pushed the musical score aside and slammed the lid of his piano in frustration, something he never did.
"Denarius, why are you doing this to me when I have so much on my plate right now!" he yelled, and he could almost hear his former head professor chuckle in response.
"You know I will always give you more to do when you think you are already overwhelmed, it's the only way I can prove to you what you are really capable of doing," his professor's voice played in his head.
"Yeah, yeah," Jonathan muttered, "and I always wondered whether that made you a genius or a sadist!"
The laughing response in his head was interrupted by real laughter as his daughter came in and said, "That musical puzzle of your professor's may be the product of a sadistic genius, but I think I've got a clue."
She pulled out a piece of paper and said, "It's a chart of how musical notes can represent letters -- there have been war spies who've used this, and some of them were so good their scores sounded like real musical pieces while sending vital information, too."
"Hey, Dad, what's up?" Alex asked as he and Buddy clambered through the door.
"My blood pressure," was Jonathan's rather glum response as he pointed to the papers in front of him.
"Oh, c'mon, Denarius didn't mean for this to get us down, he meant for it to be solved somehow," Buddy replied, "and I'll bet it will be worth it when we do."
"I know, and since Stacy reminded me of Elgar's Enigma Code and other musical codes spies have used, I found this chart."
A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W X Y Z
"Every note can stand for up to four letters, and I've been going over the repeated theme he wrote into this music trying to figure out if it's a simple code like this."
"And...?" Buddy prompted, and Jonathan replied, "It seems to be saying, 'Find my granddaughter.'"
"This piece is supposed to be fluid and light, not staccato."
Jonathan heard his current conductor's voice and Denarius' voice mixed in his mind, and his conductor frowned at him as he shook his head to clear it.
"Jonathan, do you need some time off from the orchestra?" Mr. Miles asked.
"No, sir, I'm sorry, I've got something on my mind today, that's all," Jonathan apologized, and Mr. Miles picked up his baton to begin the section they were rehearsing again.
Denarius, I will give you my attention at home when I'm trying to solve your crazy puzzle, but stay out of my brain while I'm at work, Jonathan thought to himself.
He picked up with the conductor and the further thought came to him, Denarius made me the musician I am today, he's always in my brain.
"Denarius did have a kid, you know," Buddy said, "but his wife died when the child was very young and by the time we had him as a professor, their daughter was grown and married."
"Yeah, I remember hearing that he and his daughter had a rough time of it after his wife died, and he didn't like the man she married, so he hardly ever talked to her," Jonathan added.
"Which is why I checked his obituary and got the name of his daughter and granddaughter," Buddy added.
"Great, now we can contact them!" Jonathan exclaimed.
"That's the spirit," Buddy smiled, and added, "I have my friend who is in the state police looking for their addresses or contact information. It seems they may not have gotten along well, but the apple didn't fall far from the tree and just like Denarius would never tell any student where he lived, his daughter and granddaughter seem to be just as private, with not much available online about them."
Jonathan was nervous as he crossed the yard to the front steps, Professor Denarius' old, battered baton gripped in his left hand.
He knocked at the door, and the woman he had spoken to on the phone the week before answered and smiled at him saying, "You must be Jonathan."
"And you must be Denarius' granddaughter, Julia," he replied as she motioned him through the door.
"To get to the point, because I know you aren't in town for long, my grandfather left several envelopes with his attorney which were mailed out after his death," Julia started. "In his will he gave most of what he owned to me and some to my mother, but in his separate list of instructions he told us he'd left certain items hidden and he wanted his students to have them, but they'd have to work to find them."
"Somehow that does not surprise me, he wanted his students to work for everything, he always said that if you don't work for it, you don't appreciate it," Jonathan replied, and Julia smiled and nodded.
A knock on the door interrupted them at that point and Jonathan said, “That’s probably Buddy, he said he’d be here as soon as he could.”
Julia opened the door and Buddy clomped in, introducing himself, shaking her hand, and dominating the room as he always did.
“Well, what have we figured out here?” Buddy asked, then as he often did interrupted his own train of thought by adding, “and I hope we figure this stuff out soon, I picked up a menu from the new restaurant we wanted to try and I’m hungry!”
Not being used to his outbursts, Julia looked nonplussed, but Jonathan took it in stride and laughed, saying “Don’t worry, I’ve never forgotten to feed you yet, it would be too dangerous!”
Turning to Julia, Jonathan asked, “Now that we’ve found you, do you have any idea what we are supposed to do next to find whatever it was your grandfather left for us?”
Buddy chimed in, “Stacy and Alex worked up a computer program to help them decode that piece of music Denarius wrote, and they should have texted you all the parts that actually stand for words, Jonathan.”
“‘Measure with my hand, use no substitute, from the floor three up, from the left four across, then the key’ — what?” Jonathan asked.
He, Buddy and Julia were in the back portion of the basement, Buddy bending himself almost in half to keep from knocking his head on the ceiling.
The musical code had sent them down there, with Julia admitting that since she had taken possession of her Grandfather’s house, this was the place where she had done the least cleaning and repair. “There could be anything down here,” she said, “and knowing my Grandfather, there probably is!”
“It’s easy enough to measure up from the floor and to the left from where the walls meet, but his hand?” Jonathan mused.
“His conducting baton, remember, he always said it was his second hand,” Buddy answered.
“Julia, I hope you realize I loved your grandfather as my music mentor dearly and I don’t mean any offense, but in some ways the man was only half-baked,” Jonathan said as he headed for the corner with the conductor’s baton in his hand.
Julia laughed and said, “My mother always says that when they made him they broke the mold. Then she adds they also threw away the blueprints, retooled the assembly line, and fired the idiots at quality control!”
Using the baton, Jonathan measured up the wall and then across as the instructions seemed to say, and came to a knot in the dark paneling. It didn’t look much different from the other knots, and he wondered why anyone would use such dark material in an unlit area of a basement.
He felt the knot, pushing at it, and it sprung open, revealing a lock; he reflexively reached to pull the key he’d been sent out of his pocket as Julia and Buddy watched, wide-eyed.
Turning the key, Jonathan pushed against the wall and a section of the dark paneling opened inward, and before he could ask for one of his companions to shine the flashlight in that direction, an automatic light came on in the chamber beyond.
The first thing that caught their eyes was an old piano, well preserved, standing in the middle of the marble floor. Julia gasped and said, "That has to be my grandmother's piano, the one she inherited from her mother! My mother always wondered what her father did with it!"
"It's obvious your grandfather built a room no one knew about down here in the basement to be his special music room," Jonathan said as the three of them walked in. Reaching the piano Buddy picked up the piece of paper on the music rack and showed it to them, a note that simply read, "For Julia."
Julia dropped to the piano bench, her jaw slack, and gently lifted the lid while trying to take it in.
Jonathan's eyes were drawn to a shelf in one corner of the room that held a violin case he was sure he recognized, while in the opposite corner was a cello on a stand; walking over to the shelf, he picked up the violin case and saw the paper under it, "For Jonathan." His hands shook as he opened it and saw exactly what he expected, the Amati violin Professor Denarius had loved.
Meanwhile, Buddy had been drawn to the cello, and practically yelled, "It's a Rugeri, and it has my name on it! Who did Denarius fleece to be able to afford this!"
A voice in the doorway said, "I think I can answer that."
"Mom, when did you get here?” Julia asked, running to hug the figure in the doorway.
“Just a few minutes ago, and why am I not surprised that my eccentric father built a hidden room to hold his treasures? Will you look at this,” she noticed the shelves on the wall and walked over, continuing “there was only one of them in the jewelry box and I’ve been wondering where the mate was to my mom’s favorite pair of earrings!”
“I’m Diane, by the way, Denarius’ daughter,” she said after picking up the earring, turning to Jonathan and Buddy.
“Why would Grandpa have had one earring down here and the other in the jewelry box he gave you?” Julia asked.
“Tell you what,” Diane said, “it’s late, lets go out and get dinner and we can talk, I think I’ve put together enough for us to be able to figure it all out,” and Buddy yelled, “I second that motion, I’m starving!”
"So, Diane," Jonathan began after they were seated at the restaurant and had placed their order, "how do you think your father was able to collect valuable instruments and build a secret room for them?"
"It really goes back to the time when Dad lost Mom in that horrible accident when I was barely more than a baby. He was always eccentric, and from her diary I think she was the stabilizing influence in his life and I know she loved him, craziness and all.
"There was a large insurance settlement from the accident and a life insurance policy, and it was when I got old enough to start asking what he'd done with all that money that he and I began to argue. While he did put a lot of it into investments that he used to pay for my college and that he left to Julia, now I see he was also trying to invest in the only things he really understood, valuable musical instruments."
"Which will stick us in the middle," Buddy said, and Diane asked, "What do you mean?"
“Well, think about it,” Buddy continued, “the money that Professor Denarius spent for those instruments should be part of your inheritance, and I know from the look on his face that Jonathan agrees with me when I say I’d feel like a heel if I kept it, as much as I would like to.”
“Didn’t you hear what mom said,” Julia piped up, “Grandpa invested some of the money through a broker, and left me his house and any of the contents he didn’t specifically give my mother, and he left her some money, too.”
“Julia’s right,” Diane interjected, “my Dad was odd, but he picked a good investment advisor; even if it was weird to build a secret room and put half of Mom’s jewelry in it so I’d have to wait for you so I could find it all, he left plenty to us without those two instruments.”
“Grandpa thought the world of several of his students, and he left instructions to his lawyer to send items to many of them, but only you two got this puzzle that helped us find the things we were missing as well, and he wanted you to each have an investment quality instrument,” Julia went on.
“Buddy, like you, I am torn about it, but I think it would be bad form to refuse the gifts Denarius left us, especially as these two lovely ladies are insisting we keep them,” Jonathan spoke up for the first time, then raised his glass and added, “to Denarius!”
“I know when to dance to the tune I’m played,” Buddy laughed and they all drank that toast.