Chapter Forty

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            "Ladies and gentlemen," the man said. "And now a local group that needs no introduction because you already know them and love them. Ladies and gentlemen: Fairie Fae."

            The last time I'd been to see Claudie, her band didn't even have a name. They'd called themselves something like Claudie and the boys. Now all of Claudie's sidemen were decked out in the self-same black sleeveless cat suits, and every one of them had donned white wings. The effect was as disconcerting to the audience as it was to me. The air filled with a rash of chuckling and muffled catcalls as the band jumped into the first number.

            The piece was fast-paced and reminded me of a simple Irish jig—on speed. The fiddle player, who set the beat and gave all the cut-off cues, was a big, solid tree of a man who looked pretty good in the skintight ensemble. Every twitch of his bow on the fiddle strings set a new muscle group into stark relief on his back. And that was in addition to his equally impressive bulging biceps. Probably the best musician in the bunch, he was currently playing the hell out of an already fast passage. I could see errant hairs flying off his bow as he ripped carelessly through the notes.

            Next to him, the bass fiddle player seemed almost hidden behind his instrument, but I could still make out the outline of his butt. I definitely liked what I could see. It didn't hurt that his fingers moved up and down the neck of his big instrument in seconds, and he and the instrument waved back and forth in time to the music.

            Claudie herself was about to go into a solo. Seated on a folding chair, she wrapped her arms around a four-and-a-half-foot-tall wooden harp whose frame was painted with intertwining Celtic knots. Although Claudie didn't seem to be playing quite as many notes as her fiddle player, she was simultaneously accompanying herself with another counter melody that swirled in and out of the main tune.

            The final member of Claudie's group stood at one end. A tall thin man, he hunched over a table holding little fork-like mallets that he used to strike an instrument that was angled upward on the table. The instrument looked like the San Francisco Bay Bridge in miniature with dozens of thin strings suspended in the air by delicate wooden struts. The man hit individual strings with the mallets and music erupted.

            When it was his turn to take up the melody, Bay Bridge guy moved so quickly that his mallets looked like hummingbird wings in flight. The music he made was hypnotic and slightly oriental, but I could make out the melody under chord upon chord of darker notes.

            Next all four members of the band played the melody again, only this time in a round that the fiddle player started and the bass player ended. Then, with a nod from the fiddle player, everyone played the final note like a dot on the end of the tune.

            The audience roared and wildly applauded and all four musicians smiled while the fiddle player counted off the tempo for the next number.

            The music was slower this time and more full, with rich staccato bass notes and scales of glissandos from Claudie. Bay Bridge guy showcased the melody, which sounded more and more otherworldly as he seemed to change key and play the same tune, only with higher and higher notes until the fiddle player stole the melody away in a wail of strings that sounded like a woman crying.

            Without warning, tears came to my eyes, and I felt as if I remembered all the saddest moments of my life one after the other. The latest memory was the morning two weeks ago when I'd discovered Deborah Alston's body under my desk. I wasn't the only one with unexpected tears. I heard surreptitious sniffles all across the room.

            The song ended with the high, sweet clear notes of the fiddle, like a benediction. I wiped my tears quickly with the back of one hand, and Jimmy squeezed the other one. Suddenly, I saw it like a vision, I knew who the killer was. It had to be Simone. I felt it in my gut. But I didn't have a shred of proof. And now wasn't a good time to discuss it with my sidekick who happened to be on stage. I needed time alone to think, space to come up with a plan, and the wit to trap the killer. Oh, and not getting killed myself in the process would be good, too.

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