As does an act of foreplay, it started slow, building upon its own momentum with each passing minute until rain was coming down in sheets, turning the cobblestones we jogged across into treacherous little platforms nestled in the earth. Inside these sheets was where we hid, our black clothing growing heavier by the second. Though curiosity was taking a toll on me, I obeyed my benefactor's previous instruction and kept quiet. Not that anyone could hear us in this downpour.
Her head pivoted around like a squirrel’s who had just found a long sought after nut before she hunched over and began fiddling near the door handle. Creeping closer, and minding not to bump into the duffle bag against her back, I peered over her shoulder to get a better look at what she was doing. Delicate tools to match the delicate hands that operated them protruded from the keyway set in the door. She jiggled one of the two pieces, pushed on the other. Mindlessly my soaked sleeve ran against my face, clearing droplets that were clinging to my eyebrows. She pushed and jiggled. My tongue seized the question that was about to come out. Of course she was picking the lock, but why?
All I knew was what she had told me and that had sounded pretty good at the time.
Sitting in a booth at the campus diner, she had laid out a proposition I couldn’t rightly refuse. For me, an easy grand was a windfall, topping that off was an all expense paid trip to Vienna. The only job I had was to act as a translator for her and her associate, neither of them spoke good German. The conditions were that I couldn’t ask questions and I couldn’t speak to anyone about what we were doing. Had I known the exact details of what was going to happen, I still would have said yes.
“Headlights!” Her associate, Janine, yelled from behind us. The rain washed the word down to a whisper.
Irene didn’t respond.
“Renie, headlights!” She yelled again, moving to grab Irene’s shoulder just as the door swung inward.
Whatever words Irene’s lips were forming got dragged down to the stones before they even came close to my ears, but she moved into the dark mouth of the open door all the same. Janine followed and I followed her. It was only after easing the door shut that my awareness shifted to that of my ecstatically beating heart, which seemed to thump in perfect tempo with the torrent. Never before had I partaken in a good old fashioned B&E, my enjoyment of it was frightening. For a brief moment I envisioned myself leaving school to take up a life of crime, then came the remembrance of a place called prison and all enjoyment dripped away to leave only the fear in place.
As a cautionary rule Irene held the only flashlight. This way our likelihood of casting a stray beam towards a window, thereby alerting any onlooker to our presence, would be greatly diminished. I never asked what exactly we would be caught doing, honestly I figured we were going to be traipsing through a cemetery or something, not going into a house.
Irene had never so much as looked at me before the evening at the diner; Janine on the other hand had crossed my path on multiple occasions, always in the same place. She was one of those girls with an earthy color palette that alway seemed to be lingering in the esoteric aisle of the local used book store, clutching some volume or another devoted to spiritual planes or manifesting energies or astral travel. I would only go into that store to save money on books I needed, it blew me away that she was dropping cash on books that could only teach her how to be weird. But there she was, sitting next to Irene at the diner, quietly sipping on a rootbeer and staring at the menu even though she had said she wasn’t hungry for food. And then there she was, inside this strange house in Vienna, dragging her wet clothes from her flashlight paled skin.
“Before you ask,” Irene whispered, holding the light steady. “No one is home.”
The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind and that made me feel like an idiot.
“And no, you don’t need to strip.” She added. “This is not some sex thing.”
That was the question that had entered my mind.
“Mind your head, mind you head.” She said to Janine, almost in a coo, reaching over and cupping the base of her skull as the black t-shirt came up and over it.
“I know, Renie, jeesh. I’m being as careful as I can.” Janine said, tossing her shirt to the wood floor with a slap. “What time is it?”
“Almost show time.” Was all Renie responded with before handing the flashlight to me. “Keep it aimed at the floor.” She pointed. “Right there. Got it?”
“Yeah.” I took the light and pointed it where she instructed as she dropped and unzipped the black duffle bag. From it she removed three large ziplock baggies, one containing a towel, another appeared to be clothing, and the third had what looked like an old “shoe box” style tape recorder. I only recognized the recorder because my father had owned one when I was a child.
In the cast off light from the beam I could see a delicate ankle adorned with a wrap around tattoo of ivy, farther up the ankle became a smooth calf that firmly made me think of fine china. Up higher was the knee and then the thigh, a perfect flow from one structure to the next, like this leg belonged to a statue that had been smoothed by a century of acid rain.
“Hey, pervert, shine the light where I told you.”
I jumped and the light tumbled from my hand. Somehow Irene caught it before it slammed into the floor. “You couldn’t find a girl that could speak German?” She asked Janine, handing her the towel.
“Sorry.” I said, holding my hands up in defense.
“Not one I had a crush on, no.” Janine responded, taking the towel. I watched her dim silhouette run the towel over her body.
“Wait, what?” I asked.
“Oh, I didn’t pay for this to be some sort of play date, Jane.” Renie responded, keeping the light pointed at the floor. “And mind your…”
“Head, yeah, I know. You don’t have to keep reminding me, Mom.”
“Why are you so worried about her head?” I asked, remembering then about how she had kept pulling Janine’s hand away from the back of her head at the diner.
The light came up and blinded me. “What did I say about questions, guy?”
“I just thought…” My eyes squinted against the onslaught.
“Exactly what I am not paying you for. You are here to translate. You are not on a date. You are not here to oogle her.” She turned the light quickly towards Janine and in the moment I could see the two dimples in the small of her back, just above her ass. My lips twitched, imagining what it would feel like to kiss those little divots before the light came back to blind me. “Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it.” I never did get the light back, and instead watched it change position from each of Irene’s hands to under her chin, as she stuffed the wet towel and Janine’s wet clothes back into the ziplock and handed each article of dry clothing to the girl that said she had a crush on me. All the while I tried to figure out how I could go about asking her on a date. Where did she like to go? What did she like to do? It didn’t take long for me to imagine us together, in bed and out.
Once Janine was dressed, Irene handed her the tape recorder and slung the duffle over her shoulder. “We are going upstairs. Follow me.” That is what we did, Janine in the middle and me in the back. Though the house was supposedly empty, our ascension was cautious. Each step creaked as we climbed and my foot struggled to find proper placement in the dark that was even darker after having that beam blasted in my face. “I didn’t know you liked to be called Jane.” I whispered up to Janine.
“I’d be surprised if you did.”
“So, you have a crush on me?” I had wondered if she could tell I was smiling.
“Nope, just said that to get under Renie’s skin.”
“Shush it.” Irene said from the front. I could tell she had reached the top of the staircase.
My heart, ignorantly lifted to soaring heights by an affectionate jest, dropped. I wanted to tell Renie to shush it. I wanted to tell her to shove it. I said neither of those things and just swallowed the lump in my throat. Just hired help, that’s all I was. It was best to keep that in mind.
Up ahead I heard the click of the bolt in a strike plate. Then Irene said “wrong room,” and her flashlight pointed towards another closed door in the hallway.
“What are we looking for?” I whispered to Jane, as another bolt clicked.
“In here.” Irene said, vanishing into the doorway. She closed the door behind us and offered me the flashlight again. “Think you can aim this where I tell you this time?”
I nodded before saying “yes.”
In the center of the room, where she directed me to point a light, sat an unremarkable brown stained piano. One of the girls gasped as a lightning flash doused the entire room in blue light, bringing momentary life to a scowling face against the far wall.
“It’s just a bust.” Irene said before a clap of thunder shivered the timber below our feet causing me to nearly drop the flashlight again. “Bring the light over here.” She walked between me and the piano, her black hoodie absorbing the light as I followed.
Covering the keyboard of the piano was a plexiglass cover, held in place by a brass capped screw on either side. I cast the beam on one of the caps and watched Irene grip it with a pair of pliers from her bag. She twisted until it came loose and placed the cap in her pocket before going to work on the other one, then her and Jane pulled the clear cover free, placing it on the floor next to the piano. “Let us hope they keep up on the tuning.” Jane said.
“It would be a shame if they didn’t.” Irene responded.
Another flash of lightning brought the wild haired bust to life and in that moment I realized whose visage I was staring at.
“Beethoven? Is this Beethoven’s piano?”
“Sure is.” Irene answered.
“So we broke into a house containing Beethoven’s piano, for what?” I was tracing the light over the walls, where blown up images of his hand written compositions hung. “This a museum or something?” Another wave of thunder rattled our foundation.
“You’re sharp.” Irene said. “Happen to see a bench anywhere?”
“Over there,” Jane said, pulling the flashlight from my hand and walking towards a corner of the room. “Damn, the cover is bolted to the floor.”
“Not a problem, I brought tools for that.”
Wind driven rain battered the windows and lightning flashed. “Feeling anything?” Irene asked Jane.
“Oh yeah.” Thunder cracked.
“You know, he died on a night like this.”
“All the better.”
I walked over to their corner, where Jane held the light on a kneeling Irene that was ratching the last of the four bolts from the floor. “What exactly is it we are doing here?” Lightning.
“What did I say about questions?”
“It won’t hurt to tell him. Not now.” Thunder.
“He won’t believe it till he sees it.” Flash. She stands up and opens her arms wide, gripping either side of the plastic and lifted. “Ugg, this is heavy as shit.” Boom. “Gimme a hand, Harvey.”
“Yeah, sure.” Flashboom. I stepped around Jane and pressed my palms against the sides of the case while Irene did the same and together we disentered the bench from it’s translucent tomb. We sidestepped until we had the freespace to gently set it down.
“Wow,” Jane whispered, running her hand over the polished wooden surface. “He used to sit right here.”
“Wonder how he will feel about doing it again.” Irene remarked, walking over and lifting the bench, carrying it to the piano. “Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Boomflash.
“Harv, come hold the light again. Jane, take a seat.”
I took the light from Jane’s hand and with a deep breath she settled onto the bench.
“Shine it over here.” Irene pulled what looked to be a cigar case from her bag and opened it, inside was a glass tube and inside that tube was what appeared to be a short thin copper wire with a rounded copper cap on it. She handed me the tube. “Do not. I repeat, Do. Not. Drop this.” Flaboom. “Go ahead and part your hair.” She said to Jane. “Shine the light on the back of her head.”
While Jane and I did what we were told, Irene was stretching a pair of latex gloves over her hands. Where the black hair parted I could see a shiny little ring of steel resting against the flesh just below her hairline, like a tiny nose ring in the strangest place. “That must be a bitch to brush around.” I said mostly to myself, wondering why in the hell someone would pierce their scalp like that.
“Nah. It’s been alright since it healed. Itched like a bitch at first though.”
“Open that tube up.”
I pulled the plastic stopper from the top of the tube and looked down at the little copper button atop the wire. The size of it reminded me of one of those old paper stays with the two folding legs on it. “Tip it into my hand.” Irene said, “carefully.” Flasoom. “Shine the light down here, so you can see my hand.”
I dumped the contents of the tube into her left hand and she grasped the cap between the thumb and index finger of her right. The wire was about two inches long and seemed stiffer than I thought it would be.
“Follow my hand with that light, I don’t want to bump this into anything by accident.”
The light followed her hand as it raised slowly towards the back of Jane’s head.
The light glinted off of the wire as it touched the metal ring at the base of Jane’s skull.
“What…” the light showed everything “the…” as the wire began to get “fuck…” shorter and “are you…” shorter vanishing inside “doing?” the metal ring until only the shiny cap could be seen.
“Done.” Irene said with a smile.
“Wow, that didn’t hurt at all.” Jane said, letting her hair fall back into place.
“To answer your question, I just attached a conductive wire to her pineal gland. Think of it like an antenna and now, Janine here, is a radio.”
“Yeah, except a radio for spirits.”
The lightning flashed. The thunder rolled. I didn’t move a muscle.
“Okay Jane, just like we practiced.” Irene said, pulling the flashlight from my frozen hand and shutting it off. “Just relax and let him in.”
“I know, I know.”
“Let him in?”
Outside it sounded as though the rain was beginning to let up, the lightning however was still intermittently illuminating the room.
“What do you mean, let him in?”
Suddenly the shape of Jane’s body jerked on the bench, forcefully enough to scoot it against the floor with a squeal. Her head moved hesitantly as her hands floated up to tap against her ears. “Ich cann hören? Ich cann hören.” Came from her mouth. German words, her voice.
“What did she say?” Irene whispered to me.
“Uh, I can hear. I can hear.” I responded, watching the shadowed figure move on the bench.
“Herr Beethoven?” Irene asked.
“Ja.” The figure said, now looking down at her hands.
“Yes.” I relayed.
“Herr Beethoven, willkommen zurück, du bist schon eine weile weg.” Irene said, making me wonder why she needed me in the first place.
The figure jumped from the bench and spun around, pointing at us in the dark, yelling “wer bist du! Wer bist du!”
“He...he wants to know who we are.”
“Tell him we are friends.”
“Freunde, Herr Beethoven, freunde.”
“Wo bin ich?”
“He wants to know where he is.”
“Tell him he is home, you idiot.”
“Wo bin ich!” Jane yelled, stomping her foot.
“Zuhause!” I shouted, putting my hands up. “Du bist zuhause.”
Those words seemed to appease him and Jane’s body stood up straight, in an almost stately manner. We watched as she walked through the dark room, silently running her hand over the cases containing artifacts within. It felt like an hour of silence before the body made its way back to the piano, running it’s fingers over the glossy wood. When a finger came down on a key the room filled with that one sullen note.
“Mein Hurr?” Irene said, causing him to turn and look at her. “Can you ask him if he would play for us?”
“I...uh…” Something about asking a recently resurrected composer to entertain us didn’t feel right to me. “Doesn’t that feel like we are using him?”
“He hasn’t heard himself play in God knows how long. Don’t you think he would like to?”
“Yeah, maybe...alright.” I looked to Jane’s body, now housing the spirit of this dead man, and said, “Möchten Sie für uns spielen?”
Another key is tapped. Then another. Her head turns and her voice says, “Ich würde mich freuen.”
“He would be delighted.”
“Wunderbar.” Irene says. “Very wunderbar.” And then she pressed record.