Search All Chapters
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
0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
Meet the author:
Gold of Kings
Gold of Kings
By Davis Bunn
The rain pelting Seventh Avenue tasted of diesel and big-city friction. Sean Syrrell stared out the limo's open window and let the day weep for him.
Sean gripped his chest with one hand, trying to compress his heart back into shape. His granddaughter managed to make the end of the block only because her aunt supported her. They turned the corner without a backward glance. Not till they were lost from view did Sean roll up his window.
Storm's survival demanded that she be cut loose. He had fired her because it was the only way he could protect her. Sean knew the enemy was closing in. He had felt the killer's breath for days. Storm was his last remaining hope for achieving his lifelong dream, and establishing his legacy.
But the knowledge he had been right to fire her did little to ease the knife-edged pain that shredded his heart.
The driver asked, "Everything okay, Mr. Syrrell?"
Sean glanced at the young man behind the wheel. The driver was new, but the company was the only one he used ever since the danger had been revealed. If the enemy wanted a way to monitor his movements in New York, he'd handed it to them on a platter. "Why don't you go for a coffee or something. I'd like a moment."
"No can do, sir. I leave the wheel, they pull my license."
Sean stared blindly at the rain-streaked side window. He could only hope that one day Storm would understand, and tell Claudia, and the pair of them would forgive him.
Unless, of course, he was wrong and the threat did not exist.
But he wasn't wrong.
Sean opened his door and rose from the car. "Drop my bags off at the hotel. We're done for the day."
Sean passed the Steinway showroom's main entrance, turned the corner, pressed the buzzer beside the painted steel elevator doors, and gave his name. A white-suited apprentice grinned a hello and led him downstairs. Sean greeted the technicians, most of whom he knew by name. He chatted about recent acquisitions and listened as they spoke of their charges. The ladies in black. Always feminine. Always moody and temperamental. Always in need of a firm but gentle hand.
Among professional pianists, the Steinway showroom's basement was a place of myth. The long room was clad in whitewashed concrete. Beneath exposed pipes and brutal fluorescent lights stood Steinway's most valuable asset: their collection of concert pianos.
All but one were black. The exception had been finished in white as a personal favor to Billy Joel. Otherwise they looked identical. But each instrument was unique. The Steinway basement had been a place of pilgrimage for over a hundred years. Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leon Fleisher, Elton John, Glenn Gould, Alfred Brendel, Mitsuko Uchida. They all came. An invitation to the Steinway basement meant entry to one of the world's most exclusive musical circles.
Sean Syrrell had not been granted access because of his talent. As a pianist, he was mechanical. He did not play the keys so much as box with the music. He lacked the finesse required for greatness. But fifteen years ago, he had done Steinway a great favor. He had located and salvaged the grand that had graced the White Palace, summer home to the Russian czars.
After the Trotsky rebellion, the piano had vanished. For years the world believed that Stalin had placed it in his dacha, then in a drunken rage had chopped it up for firewood. But Sean had found it in a Krakow junk shop the year after the Berlin Wall fell, just one more bit of communist flotsam. He had smuggled it west, where Germany's finest restorer had spent a year returning it to its original pristine state. It was now housed in the Steinway family's private collection.
The basement was overseen by Steinway's chief technician. He and an assistant were "juicing" the hammers of a new concert grand. Sean spent a few minutes listening and discussing the piano's raw tones. Then he moved to his favorite. CD18 was more or less retired from service after 109 years of touring. Occasionally it was brought out as a favor to a special Steinway client. The last time had been for a voice-piano duet — Lang Lang and Pavarotti. For fifteen years, Van Cliburn had begged Steinway to sell him the instrument. Yet here it remained.
Sean seated himself and ran through a trio of exercises. His hands were too stubby for concert-quality play, his manner at the keys too brusque. Added to that were his failing ears, which had lost a great deal of their higher-range tonality. And his strength, which these days was far more bluster than muscle. And his heart, which still thudded painfully from firing Storm.
This time, it took a great deal longer than usual to leave the world behind. He hovered, he drifted, yet he was not transported. The tragic elements of his unfolding fate held him down.
When peace finally entered his internal realm, Sean switched to an étude by Chopin. It was a courtly dance, even when thumped out by his bricklayer's hands. The instrument was bell-like, a radiant sound that caused even his antiquated frame to resonate.
Between the first and second movement, his playing transported him away from the realm of business and debt and his own multitude of failings. He knew others believed he harbored an old man's fantasy of playing on the concert stage. But that was rubbish. He was here because twice each year, for a few treasured moments, an instrument brought him as close to divinity as Sean Syrrell would ever come. At least, so long as he was chained to this traumatic ordeal called life.
Sean detected a subtle shift in the chamber's atmosphere. He was well aware of what it probably meant. He shut his eyes and turned to his favorite composer. Brahms was so very right for the moment, if indeed he was correct in thinking the moment had arrived.
Brahms above all composers had managed to form prayer into a series of notes. Yet Brahms had always been the hardest for Sean to play. Brahms required gentle eloquence. Normally Sean Syrrell played with all the gentleness of a drummer.
Today, however, Sean found himself able to perform the melody as it should be performed, as a supplicant with a lover's heart.
Then Sean heard a different sound. A quiet hiss, accompanied by a puff of air on his cheek.
Sean opened his eyes in time to see a hand reflected in the piano's mirrored surface, moving away from his face. It held a small crystal vial.
Sean's cry of alarm was stifled by what felt like a hammer crashing into his chest. He doubled over the instrument, and his forehead slammed into the keyboard. But he heard none of it.
His entire being resonated with a single clarity of purpose, as strong as a funeral bell. He had been right all along.
Sean did not halt his playing. Even when his fingers slipped from the keys, still he played on.
His final thought was of Storm, which was only fitting. She was, after all, his one remaining earthbound hope.
He was carried along with notes that rose and rose until they joined in celestial perfection, transporting him into the realm he had prayed might find room for him. Even him.