By the 26th of February, most of America was lurching toward spring. The White House, however, stuck to its script, prompting news networks to make shopping lists for covering the neoconservatives’ war. It was debatable whether such a climate was the most or the least ideal for a Brahmin funeral.
At the packed Christ Church in Cambridge, Tessa Frost read an excerpt from the Camus essay “Love of Life” that brought tears to the eyes of those who could hear her. Her sister read from an epistle of Paul (that there be no divisions among you), and a succession of old men in blue and gray suits read from Simon’s writing. The dignitaries and political celebrities arrived late to their reserved pews, some shaking hands along the way as if at a fundraiser. The service was simulcast for lesser-tier mourners at the MIT Chapel, giving the mostly foreign-born undergraduates in attendance a glimpse of American intellectualism as it faded from public life:
I was lucid and smiling before this unique play of appearances. A single gesture, I felt, would be enough to shatter this crystal in which the world’s face was smiling. Something would come undone—the flight of pigeons would die and each would slowly tumble on its outstretched wing.
The Ludenberrys seemed glad that Daphne took responsibility for Elijah, allowing them to cram in closer with the A-list mourners. The sardine fit of the Christ Church pews made Daphne wish she’d taken Elijah to the Saarinen chapel instead. Even the old ladies managed to jostle him about. The fact that he’d come accompanied by Fidelia Anguiano—a curious girl who wanted to see more of the world—did nothing to cushion the blows. The girl did, however, serve as a stabilizing device. He called his cane Fifi; she held his hand with wide-eyed respect.
The throngs and the Ludenberrys dwindled considerably by the time the procession of long black vehicles crept toward Mount Auburn Cemetery. Daphne’s white Cadillac trailed the dark fleet at a safe distance until just past the front gate, where confusion as to which non-drivable roads were today open to vehicles caused gridlock onto the busy avenue. She was grateful she didn’t have Jan in the car to witness Boston drivers honking mercilessly at a funeral procession. It took twenty minutes to park and deliver Elijah to the less-traveled southwest corner that was the hearse’s final destination.
Jan had attended the funeral with his ex-wife, Ingrid, and a much sturdier couple some years younger. He seemed relieved to see Elijah, Daphne, and Fifi at the gravesite and quickly melded the parties. Daphne felt it strange this tableau of folding chairs placed in rows in the cold, but most of the mourners were old and needed folding chairs. During the rites she caught glimpses of Susan Frost, propped up by her big-girl daughters on either side. Trygve and his wife stood at a noticeable distance, just as they had sat at the church, as if not part of the immediate family.
However sad the day, its uneventfulness suggested to Daphne that her life had returned to some semblance of normalcy. There were no more voices since she threw away Linus’s phone. Mistress Eugenie could do no more damage to the Quartet since half of it ceased to exist and she herself was on the run from Vernon St. Urgis. Daphne had even called Ed Dowling at the number he gave and arranged a meeting during his day at Harvard.
As Susan Frost and her daughters threw handfuls of dirt, Daphne noticed a sign that read “Floral decorations will be removed when they become unsightly.” There was still the nagging question of the ghostwriter Daphne had learned about on Saturday. Some action had to be taken in regard to this person. Later, when she noticed Abigail Frost-Jeffreys at a gap in condolence-taking, she took the opportunity to strike.
“I know this is an awful day for you,” she told Simon’s daughter, “but I had to tell you something I heard from a person who may or may not be reliable. There’s a writer someone hired to dredge up embarrassing Eugenie stuff about your father and the others.”
Abigail put a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes.
“I know this must be so difficult,” Daphne consoled, “losing you father and now this.”
“No,” Abigail replied. “It’s difficult because my brother’s involved.”
“You’re kidding,” said Daphne, even though now, suddenly, it made perfect sense.
“He and that whatever she is of Linus’s.”
“Yeah, Mathilde. They’ve been working with a ghostwriter on a book about Dad’s group and the fortuneteller. They’ve also been screwing around. He bragged that the advance is going to be a million.”
“So they don’t have it yet?”
“The advance. They haven’t been paid.”
Abigail stared at her.
“Maybe there’s time.”
“What do you mean time? My father’s dead.”
Daphne realized she didn’t know what she was thinking. “I’m sorry this had to happen.”
“That woman is scum,” she went on. “Tessa’s husband ran a background check. Turns out she’s Lithuanian—the French accent is phony. She put my brother up to this. Trygve doesn’t have the wits to be a mastermind.” She shook her head. “Tessa and I . . . well, now our brother’s dead for us too.”
After Abigail was taken away by her husband’s arm, Daphne stood still with her anger. When she caught sight of Trygve playing with his phone, she decided it was time to strike again. “You’ve got to call off your scheme,” she told him.
“What the fuck?” he said. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Are you calling Mathilde?”
“Get the fuck out of my face.”
“They’ll sue you preemptively for defamation of character.”
He laughed. “Oh, those two will sue? Well you may wanna get in on the act too, ’cause, honey, we got some juicy stuff on you.”
“I can’t believe anyone is going to buy whatever your story is.”
“My story is that there’s the freak who’s hearing voices—who hangs out with old men and thinks their bitch ghosts are talking to her.”
“Then I’ll sue you for defamation of character.”
“You do that.”
“We’ll fight you on this.”
“Get lost, you crazy bitch.”
His lumpy form stomped along the asphalt with the green painted line that led to his wife and her phone. Daphne could see Elijah and Jan standing in worrisome company in the near distance, carefully watching her lack of progress. She walked over to tell them the truth. “I have some bad news.”
“We’ve heard,” said Jan gravely.
“On Monday,” Elijah added.
“About the ghostwriter?”
They both nodded, seemingly resigned to their fates. She wished she could give them some hope that the book might not come to pass, but the only hope they had was that they’d die before it was published.
“Who’s that guy over there looking at us?” asked Elijah.
“What guy?” asked Jan.
“I’m the one who’s blind,” said Elijah. “Use your eyes. Over there by the huge tree.”
“They’re all huge trees in here!”
Daphne stared at him, the man in the cargo jacket by the huge tree. The presence of a mysterious figure prompted her to remember further beans to spill.
“There’s something else,” she said.
“Uh-oh,” said Elijah.
“On Saturday there was this guy waiting outside my apartment. Vernon St. Urgis. He said Eugenie owes him a lot of money.”
“Did he threaten you?” asked Jan, alarmed.
“Not really,” she said. “But he told me he hired a detective to find her.”
“A detective?” asked Jan.
She nodded. “A Serb.”
“Maybe that’s him,” said Jan.
“Or the ghostwriter,” said Elijah.
Or just a ghost, thought Daphne.
Suddenly she could feel it—an electrical current encircling the two men, who just minutes before had been mourning their reputations as well as their friends. Now here they were, instantly reanimated at the suggestion of intrigue.
“What is it?” she asked.
“This is all too early Le Carré!” cried Elijah. “We need to find ourselves a Vienna safe house!”
“Daphne,” said Jan, “you must drive us to Medford, to Eugenie.”
“I don’t think she’s there.”
“She may be still,” said Jan.
She shook her head. “She stole that painting and now they have it back. I don’t think she’s going to be there anymore.”
“We need to find out the truth,” said Jan, “for Simon’s and Linus’s sake.”
Elijah nodded grimly. “And Fifi needs a ride home.”
The idea was foolish—like giving a twenty-pound cat another morsel of Pounce. But because they both seemed to have momentarily forgotten their bereavement, she relented.
“You need to take better care of this car,” advised Jan from the Caddy’s back seat. Fifi sat next to him, lost to the iPod that Elijah had given her for Christmas. “Haven’t you been schooled in upkeep and maintenance?”
“Turtle wax,” said Elijah from the front.
“No, not turtle wax!” Jan hollered. “A whisk broom and a damp cloth!”
Daphne met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. “I’ll take it to a carwash.”
“And then you need to SOUP it up,” exclaimed Elijah, “with fuzzy dice!”
She laughed. “Gangsta whitewalls, TV antennas in the back.”
After depositing Fifi in East Cambridge, the trio arrived at Eugenie’s rented awning to find the house behind it unlocked and cleared out.
“Why is this not surprising?” asked Daphne as they stood in the dismal foyer.
Cleared out except for the Steinway and its bench. “That’s surprising,” countered Elijah.
They walked over to the piano; the note taped to its closed lid said it belonged to the Longy School of Music. The empty house was cold; the heat seemed to have been gone for some time. How much worse the place looked with the nail holes gaping like a machine-gun’s aftermath, the squares and rectangles of clean wall making a ghost gallery of the spots where pictures had hung. Gigantic dust clumps, rubber bands and paper clips strewn like confetti on the filthy floors.
She tried to prevent the two men from feeling as forsaken as the place appeared. “I don’t suppose she left the Limoges for us.”
Jan looked around at the tawdry shell. “Scene of the crime.”
“Body in the bed,” added Elijah.
The place did feel like a corpse. The three stood awkwardly with roving eyes, like city councilors come to inspect slum property.
“How did you even find her to begin with?” she asked Jan.
He made a sour face. “I didn’t find her. She came to me.”
He nodded. “She audited a course—Spinoza versus Kierkegaard.”
“Live in Vegas at the MGM Grand!” cried Elijah.
Jan scowled at him.
“So who was she for,” asked Daphne, “Spinoza or Kierkegaard?”
He looked at her as if she’d spoken an unknown language.
She smiled. “She must’ve been a shock to have as a student.”
He appeared lost in thought. “She was full of questions all right.” And then the thought part evaporated; he looked merely lost, staring at an invisible spot on the floor. “After a lecture she waited to ask me, ‘How come you never tell Maja you love her?’ ”
His friends remained silent.
“So how come?” Elijah finally asked.
Jan felt for something to lean his arm against. He found the piano and then relieved some of his weight as he sat on the bench. His soul is too heavy, thought Daphne as she watched him shake his head. “She knew,” he began, “all about the three and a half years it took to get Maja buried in Norway.”
“Why did it take three and a half years?” asked Daphne.
He looked up at her, as if expecting her to provide the answer.
Elijah had meanwhile moved feebly to lift the front flap of the massive instrument’s massive lid, causing Daphne to take over the operation. It was somewhat exciting, and ceremonious, being the one to hold up the top and raise the pole—like Hillary on Everest she thought in the cold room—though she had no idea why the operation was necessary.
“If we can get the hood up,” Elijah said to Jan, “will you give us a show?”
This challenge seemed—after a moment or two—to revive the theologian’s sandbagged soul. He turned his body to situate his long legs under the keyboard. The reflection of waiting keys in the fall board made them seem even more ready and willing to serve.
“I am no Alfred Brendel!” he finally declared.
“Neither is Alfred Brendel Alfred Brendel,” said Elijah.
Daphne had already commenced darting from room to empty room, like something wild with hooves, until she found what she’d been looking for in the kitchen. She carried back a paint-splattered wood chair for Elijah to sit on.
Jan’s enormous hands engaged in a few preparatory exercises before he paused to complain about two keys that he tapped repeatedly with his left middle finger. He stood at three separate times to check how the felted mallets were striking the strings.
“We’re not getting any younger,” Elijah complained.
“All right!” said Jan with a “humphff” of his posterior on the tufted leather of the bench. “I shall play Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 in G flat major.” And then to Elijah, “Kindly reserve your snide comments until after the performance!”
He played with a twittering beauty, not lust, as if the keys were objects to be cherished and dusted on Sundays rather than devoured or possessed. The tune was sad in its timid reassurance, its effort to soothe the petulant beloved who might slap the bedspread and shriek “It’s all gone to rot!” With this kind of music Daphne could never think of anything other than Europe when its principalities were very complicated, always warring with each other to redraw scraggly boundaries. In any case, Jan’s Impromptu was like someone saying, after the conclusion of such a war, “Don’t worry, it’s over and I still love you.”
“That was beautiful,” she said when his music had come quietly to a halt.
He seemed preoccupied. “I think I remember the last time I played that piece.” He stared down at his hands. “I was in Frankfurt giving a lecture—long ago, when the Wall was still standing.”
“You have an amazing memory,” said Daphne.
“Yes, that was it. My God, I remember!”
Elijah sighed heavily. “Well, what about Frankfurt then?”
“My colleagues had brought Ernst Bloch to the hall, as a surprise. I hadn’t seen him since ’48—here, when he was doing his exile in Cambridge. He was installed at Tubingen but was there for some big gathering of the Frankfurt bunch—Adorno and his minions.”
Elijah was amused. “Some surprise! Did you chew them out for not believing in the God that ate Europe?”
Jan looked at Daphne. “Bloch was a Marxist, an atheist who used the Bible as a manual for political revolution. His book The Principle of Hope was always being held up as the godless mirror to All Souls.”
“Did you like him?” asked Daphne.
“Of course I liked him!”
“But did he like the Schubert?” asked Elijah.
Jan laughed. “He only had ears for Mahler!”
“So tell us the godless principle of hope,” demanded Elijah.
This request seemed to deflate the theologian.
“What is it?” asked Daphne.
“I may admire Bloch more than any other thinker I’ve ever met. He was and wasn’t the classic Marxist. Fiercely did he love the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation. For him, hope was the thing beyond what we can know and feel. Bloch believed that hope could lead us to perfect the world. He had no feeling for God in the least—no feeling whatsoever—and yet he believed in something mystical to man’s capacities.” He paused, staring at the keys. “Maja, too.” Then he looked at Daphne. “Maja, too.”
It was very cold in the empty house. Daphne had nothing she could say and so made a jiggle of her keys. “The leopard rabbit’s foot says it’s time for us to go.”