Atop the counter sat a brass cash register, and behind the register stood a slim, pale-faced man with a delicately curved nose, large, heavy-lidded eyes, and graceful high-arching eyebrows. Wavy black hair fell over his shoulders in a rich cascade of curls and ringlets. Even according to Hollywood standards, he was oddly dressed—in a long coat of dark-green cloth with wide gold-buttoned cuffs and a high starched collar. He closed his eyes and bowed slightly as she approached.
“Where did you get that fiddle?” she asked breathlessly, banging up against the counter and leaning on it with both hands.
The man raised a black eyebrow. “Fiddle?” he said, eyeing her down the length of his hawk-like nose.
“Violin! The one in the window! Do you remember who sold it to you?”
He smiled. “Ah! But he didn’t exactly sell it.”
“Well, whatever it is you do here, then. Pawn, trade, barter. What I want to know is who you got it from.”
The man laid a finger alongside his prominent cheekbone. “Mmm. Let me see. I could check my records. But would it be ethical?”
“What are you talking about? I think I might know the person who used to own it!”
As she spoke, Eny became dimly aware of a faint melody fluttering somewhere in the background. It floated across the field of her perception like a wisp of fog across a clear sky. But she was too intent upon her purpose to let it invade the active portion of her mind.
“My records,” he muttered again, yanking open a file drawer under the counter. “Now where did I leave them? Ah, yes! Not many ask such questions, you know.”
“About the people who sell—I mean, pawn stuff here?”
“I am speaking with reference to ethical questions,” he said. “And is the reason for this deficiency far to seek? I think not. For when passion leads a man to do a thing, he forgets his duty.” He sighed. “Inconstancy, weariness, boredom. Such are the commonest roots of human behavior.”
Eny felt as if she was about to burst. “Can’t you at least tell me what he looked like?” she asked frantically.
The music was gathering strength. Sweeping arpeggios mounted like flocks of birds to the ceiling. Winged pairs of point and counterpoint darted from wall to wall. Massive chords throttled the big plate glass window. Cups and saucers rattled along the shelves.
The man bent over the counter and looked into her eyes. “I’m afraid I can’t help you,” he said quietly. “But then you don’t really need my help.”
Suddenly it hit her. Someone was playing the piano at the front of the store! Spinning around, she looked out across the cases of jewelry and the clothing racks to where the big black upright was rocking and swaying in time with the rising music. The keyboard faced the window, and the instrument was unusually tall, so Eny was unable to get a good look at the person on the bench. But there was one thing she saw very clearly—the flapping motion of his wide-brimmed hat.
With a muffled cry she dropped her pack and took two steps toward the source of the soaring harmonies. Instantly the piano fell silent, the keyboard cover slammed shut, and the pianist was up and out the door …
(To be continued ...)