Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 10

After the tutorial lesson, Julie made a formal report. That afternoon, a detective came over from the station house on West Forty-Seventh to get a statement, and Julie was excused the last fifteen minutes of Elizabeth Sherwood's session on American short story writers to go and speak to him. As Sherwood explained the nature of the team research projects that she was handing out, Bruno Martelli was wondering if it would be worth having one of his synthesizers stolen, maybe just a little bitty theft like the pocket-size Yamaha, in order to get a cast-iron excuse to skip an English lesson. On the whole, probably not - but it was a close-run thing.

Doris Schwartz was picked as a team leader, and she drew her subject out of a bowl. John O'Hara.

After the lesson, she went over to Bruno and Leroy.

'Okay, you two,' she said. 'You're drafted.'

Bruno looked at Leroy with a doubt that was only slightly overplayed. 'What do you think?'

Leroy thought it over. 'I think we should wait for a better offer. Someody who can guarantee us an A.'

'Leroy,' Doris said, 'this is the best offer you're going to get. Who else would be willing to carry you?'

'You hear that?' Leroy asked Bruno. 'Carry me?' He turned back to Doris. 'Doris, I am an expert on short stories.'

'Leroy.' Bruno said, 'Weird Comics does not qualify as short stories.'

The next period was a study hour, so they went up to the library. Danny Amatullo got himself collected along the way to complete the team, and the four of them took over a complete library alcove and stacked the table high with every reference book they could find.

The intention to work was there, but the will somehow wasn't. Within a quarter of an hour, the conversation had turned to the subject of Julie's missing cello.

'I think somebody here, someone in the school, stole the thing.' Doris said, and she started to count off her fingers. 'He knew where to look, when to go, and what to go for. And who's going to notice another student carrying a cello in a practice case?'

'I think we're supposed to be writing a term paper on John O'Hara,' Leroy said. 'Not who ripped off Julie Miller's cello.'

Bruno looked at him with surprise. 'Don't you care?'

Leroy shrugged. 'Not my business.'

'All right. Supposed it was your instrument that was stolen. What then?'

Leroy slid back his chair and pointed to his feet, which were clad in a gaudy pair of star-spangled trainers over knee-high socks. 'These are my instruments,' he said. 'Anybody tries to mess with them, and they're going to have a whole bunch of trouble to deal with.' And that, apparently, was Leroy's last word on the subject. He returned to the text in front of him, his lips moving slowly as he followed the words. Leroy's reading had improved a lot in the past year, but this was a habit he'd been unable to get rid of.

Doris and Bruno got back to the discussion. 'Where do you go when you want to sell a stolen instrument?' Doris said. 'Do they have used instrument stores?'

'Pawn shop,' Leroy said, without looking up. 'A theif ain't got no time to shop around. He wants to dump what he has, and get out. Pawn shop. It's faster.'

'That's a great idea,' Danny said.

'Yeah,' Doris said, with growing enthusiasm. 'All we have to do is check the pawn shops in New York and I bet we find Julie's cello.' She looked at Danny and Bruno. Both were a little open-mouthed; Leroy, meanwhile, was still trying to ignore the whole conversation. 'I'll take the Bronx,' she suggested.

'That is the dumbest thing I ever heard,' Leroy muttered as Danny brought the Yellow Pages over from the reference shelves. 'You got any idea how many pawn shops there are in all of New York?'

They had an answer for the Bronx, soon enough; there were seven. 'I can handle that,' Doris said, but Leroy was still unconvinced.

'Okay,' he said, 'even if we . . . ' He stopped, and corrected himself. 'Even if you find the right pawnshop, how you gonna know it's Julie's cello?'

But Doris wasn't about to be stopped. 'There's a brass plaque on the bottom with her initials on it. I remember.'

'Yeah,' Leroy said, exasperated, 'well I remembered I got something else to do.'

'What?'

'Anything,' Leroy said. He stood up, slammed his book shut, picked up the notes that he'd made, and walked out of the alcove.

Maybe it was some milder form of a deathwish; Leroy's grades hadn't been so hot this term, and even as he'd whipped up the will to do the extra work he found himself being slowly drawn into someone else's problem.

What he really needed was to find some quiet corner where he could study alone. Instead, he took a walk.

A walk's okay, he told himself. A walk's just a way of clearing out your head for the heavy thinking. Doris and the others had been guiding his mind onto a track where he really couldn't afford to let it go. Leroy knew exactly where a check of the Bronx pawnshops would get them; nowhere. They just hadn't thought it through. Somebody stealing a cello wouldn't take it all the way to the Bronx to unload it, not if he wanted to make the trip without some suspicious cop's heavy hand falling on his shoulder; he'd head for somewhere close, but not too close. Somewhere in Manhattan, somewhere uptown.

He headed west, dodging across the wide racetrack that was the convergence of Broadway and Seventh. A skate boarder sailed by, a bearded white man in his mid-twenties taking a gamble on seeing thirty by riding the traffic; slightly Bohemian and carrying a knapsack, he was hitching rides by grabbing trucks and buses, coasting on around corners, reaching for the next. Nobody paid too much attention; it was probably his regular way of getting around. Once Leroy might have been tempted to try something similar, but not any more. A broken ankle set wrong could end his career before it had even started.

He passed the faded gilt and old marble of the Edison Hotel's rear foyer. Next door was the Lunt Fontanne theatre, where he'd once sneaked in without paying to see a perfomance of Peter Pan. To this day, he'd never told anyone. He'd never found out how the show ended, either, because an assistant manager had found him and thrown him out before the last act began.

At Eighth, he made a turn and started to walk uptown.

I'll make a circle, he thought, pick up a Coke and head around and back. He started to scan the storefronts for a fast food franchise. There was an Orange Julius stall about fifty yards agead, but before that there was a pawnshop.

In the pawnshop window, there was a cello.

Okay, so that was a cello. Leroy had no cause to think that it was Julie's, so he told himself to keep walking.

His feet didn't listen. With the comradeship of one instrument towards another, they took him into the pawnshop.

The place smelled of fifty years of dust and metal polish. The broker gave him a doubtful look when Leroy tod him what he wanted to see, but he went to get the cello from the window. Leroy waited patiently on the customer side of the counter.

'Funny,' the broker said, 'I'd never have picked you for a cello player.'

'I ain't,' Leroy said, turning the cello over to look for the giveaway brass plate. 'I'm a collector.'

'Then you came to the right place. Look at the finish on that thing. Notice . . . '

But Leroy, having found no plate, was already handing the instrument back across the counter.

'What's this?' the broker said, already on his way out of the door.

'Wait!' the broker called after him. 'I got another cello in the back. Betcha it's just what you're looking for. Don't go away.'

Wearily, Leroy let the door close with him still on the inside. This was not welcome news. He watched as the broker re-emerged with yet another instrument, a cello with no cover. 'I took this from a guy on loan,' the broker said as he lifted it onto the counter between them, 'but I've got a hunch the guy ain't never coming back for it.'

Leroy turned it over. There it was, a small metal plate with the initials JDM in some fancy scrolled engraving.

This was all he needed.

'You interested?' the broker said.

Leroy turned the cello upright. 'I don't know. What are you asking for it?'

'Oh,' the broker began, switching from selling mode to haggling mode. 'That's an expensive instrument. Especially that one. You see . . . '

'Let me ask it this way,' Leroy cut in patiently. Supposing this cello is stolen, and I can prove it's stolen. And supposing I don't mind telling the cops that this store is handling hot merchandise, since I know -' and here he tapped the counter - 'this cello is definitely stolen. Then how much do you want for it?'

The broker's friendly expression dropped like a mask. His eyes, sharp as pencil-points, studied Leroy much as one jungle animal might study another of similar size and strength.

The plate with the initials was the problem. If it wasn't for that, he could have thrown Leroy out onto the street; what stopped him was that Leroy had known where to look.

The broker considered it from every angle, including the possibility that two kids might be working in collusion. The goddamned cello might have been in and out of every pawnshop in uptown New York. But could he take that chance?

Leroy waited it out. Facing down the broker didn't bother him at all. Going to the cops, now, that would be something to sweat about; Leroy and New York's Finest were like the sodium and water that had exploded on contact in last week's chemistry class. He could have gone back and told Julie, and Julie could have phoned her detective and maybe sometime tomorrow they'd get around to sending someone over to take a look . . . by which time the broker would have put two and two together, and the cello would be off the premises.

No, this kind of pressure didn't bother Leroy at all.

It sure was bothering the broker, though.
 
 

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