I don't know when I first discovered that Detective Bobby Sabbatini, of the Saint Paul Police Department, had a photographic memory for poetry. He always tucked a couple of slim volumes of verse into the flapped pockets of his silk jacket, or curled them into the pouches of his bomber.
I heard that the stuff came spewing out of him all day. He'd recite Ginsberg or Gary Snyder to some kid making espressos at Dunn Brothers. A bit of a blue-collar poem, by Philip Levine, to an ancient gal scanning groceries at Kowalski's. Everybody loved it, because Sabbatini did it with a light touch.
A tall, slender man, with silvered temples, Sabbatini dressed better than any cop I've known. Dude was his own man. Played viola in the university orchestra at Michigan State, just as I played cello at Berkeley. He was also a long-distance runner during college. Claimed he kept himself going by humming bars from Bartok's third and fourth string quartets.
I got to know Sabbatini before his poetry conversion, in the late 1990s. We met at the murder scene of one of my clients. A week later we played quartets together. I was still grieving for my client and craved some musical solace. I gathered a couple of fiddle players I knew, both pharmacists, and the four of us made a few righteous runs through Haydn's String Quartet in D, "The Lark." I fell in love with the Adagio Cantabile. The first violinist, the pharmacist with the longer nose, had a lovely tone. The second fiddle, Sabbatini, and I strung out some sweet chords. Of course, Bobby and I had smoked down a nice nugget of hash before we started playing, and the pharmacists clearly had their own secrets.
I'd never really thought of Sabbatini as a priestly man, but shortly after 9/11, when he had his prostate problem, the poetry hit him like a calling. Another cop might have gone and drowned himself, but Sabbatini embraced the poetry like a man with a mission.
Despite the fact that this story begins with a troubled violinist and ends with gunfire and protest songs, I'll remember its sound track in verse. Sabbatini was quite persuasive with the stuff and infected more than a few of us.
It so happens that I smoked a goodly amount of weed during this time. I feared it would erase hunks of my memory if I let it. So when I went to bed at night, I forced myself to remember the day and find the right title for its key episodes. Finally, after I'd come up with a few decent headers, I could fall asleep.
All I can say is that I was amused when, in early August, I saw the first buses in the Twin Cities wrapped in a lush lake landscape. They looked like a Hamm's Beer commercial from the 1950s, heading up the street.
Except that a message in a dripping font overlaid the lake image: the miracle is coming.
Pretty soon a small fleet of miracle buses made its way across Minneapolis and Saint Paul. the miracle is coming. I smiled at the evangelical boast. At the notion that anything can be bought for the right price--our public space, our curiosity, even our souls.
In less than a month the Republican National Convention was coming to town and all hell was going to break loose.
The buses kept rolling. Finally, a date was attached to the claim: the miracle is coming on labor day.
Good, I thought, I'm gonna be out of town. But, of course, I wasn't.
On a sultry morning in mid-August, the door to my Loring Park office opened and a bright-faced blonde, who couldn't have been much more than thirty, stepped inside. She carried a violin in a canvas-covered case. I took a good look at her. Green eyes and a sweet mole just north of the bridge of her nose.
"How do you do?" I stepped from behind my desk and extended my hand. "August Boyer. They call me Augie."
The violinist held out a soft hand with nails trimmed to the nubs. "I'm Elizabeth Odegard."
The woman had sprayed on too much Ysatis, a cloying, citrus fragrance from Givenchy that my wife began wearing just before she left me. But what really grabbed my attention were my visitor's shoes, a wondrous pair of turquoise missiles that narrowed into long, impossible snouts. I thought of a pair of ferrets.
"So, did you come to play me 'Happy Birthday'?" I asked, nodding toward her fiddle.
"Is it your birthday, Mr. Boyer?"
"No, but people are always sending me strange gifts out of the blue. Have a seat, Ms. Odegard." I pointed toward the teak sofa, a garage-sale Danish modern relic that I spent a fortune having re-covered. I did a few daft things after Nina left, but the remake of the sofa was the costliest. What kind of crazy fuck spends nineteen hundred bucks to cover an uncomfortable salvage piece in leather the color of summer squash?
I leaned back against the edge of my desk and watched the violinist bend her long frame into the teak rack. She parked her violin at her feet and clicked the sides of her ferrets against the case.
"I'm on my way to rehearsal," she said. "I play in the Minnesota Orchestra and live a few blocks away--on Willow and West Grant. I thought I'd walk today."
"Isn't Orchestra Hall in the opposite direction?"
"Yes, but I came to see you. Do you mind if I stand?"
"'Course not. That's a pretty uncomfortable perch."
The violinist strolled past my Bob Dylan calendar, on the south wall, and stood face-to-face with a framed photo of Rose, belting out a song with her band.
"My daughter," I volunteered.
My visitor squinted at the photo. "She looks like she might be a handful."
"She's out of my hands," I said, suddenly lonesome for Rose. "Actually, she's become quite the star."
"Yes. So what can I do for you, ma'am?"
The violinist spun around and looked at me. "It's my husband. I need to get away from him."
"Is he dangerous?"
The violinist didn't answer. I watched her for a moment and then studied the long snouts of her shoes. I wondered how she walked around in those things. They didn't seem the right shoes for a woman who was trying to get away.
The violinist came back and sat on the edge of the leathered teak. "My husband has a habit of straying."
You'd have thought she was describing a lost tabby.
The violinist leaned forward and I got another whiff of her perfume. Definitely Ysatis.
"But I'm not really interested in his extracurricular escapades. I haven't let him touch me for a couple of years. I don't care who he sees or what he does with them, but it might be wise to document the whole dirty business for the sake of the divorce."
"You're planning a divorce, Ms. Odegard? Is that what you're after?"
"In part. Please, call me Liz."
I had no interest in calling her "Liz." I wasn't usually bored in the company of nice-looking women, but this one made me drowsy. I strolled around my desk and rummaged through the top drawer, finally pulling out a tin of Altoids. "Look, Ms. Odegard, maybe what you need is a divorce attorney. I can recommend a few."
"My husband's business has been very shady lately."
"What kind of business is he in?"
"He trades in violins."
"He's a dealer?"
"Not in the traditional sense. He doesn't have a shop. He has a collection of fine violins that he's procured over the last decade. He shows them only by appointment. He lent me one to use in my first season with the orchestra."
"Kind of him."
"It's not uncommon. I got into the orchestra straight out of Oberlin, and I'd been using a violin on loan from the conservatory. That's what led me to Perry."
I opened the lid to the Altoids, plucked out a couple of pellets, and dropped them on my tongue. Nasty as ever. "I'd offer you one, Ms. Odegard, but they're stale. I've had these rolling around in my desk for an age." I nodded toward the violin case. "So is this the violin?"
"What's its value?
"It's a pretty decent instrument. Giovanni Rogeri, 1712. From the Amati school."
"And its value?"
Elizabeth Odegard lifted the violin case onto her lap. "Would you like to see it?"
"No, I don't want to see it."
The violinist, poised to unzip the brown canvas cover, seemed surprised by my disinterest.
"What did you say your fiddle's worth?"
She bit her lower lip. "I didn't say. It's a very rare instrument. Perry only deals in rare instruments. I can't say what it's worth exactly."
"Give me a ballpark."
"It's insured for $350,000."
"I see. So it's not a student model."
"No." She laughed. "Not a student model. By the way, Mr. Boyer, I hear you play cello."
"I'm a rank amateur. How did you hear about me, Ms. Odegard?"
"An article in the Star Tribune."
A few years earlier, with help from the violin dealer Lionel Ross, I'd located a symphony member's "lost" violin, a Matteo Goffriller valued at more than $275,000. The fiddle, owned by the dapper Pieter Haus, disappeared from the musicians' lounge at Orchestra Hall and turned up in Dallas, where a twelve-year-old girl, who had trouble keeping it tuned, played it in her junior high orchestra. A human-interest story about me, and my good fortune in tracking the violin, appeared in the Strib.
"I rarely do that kind of work, Ms. Odegard. That was an aberration. My stock and trade--infidelity and insurance--isn't so glamorous. And even infidelity, or at least the desire for proof of it, has tanked. I spend most of my time on workers' comp cases."
Elizabeth Odegard sat up straight, the way a person is meant to on a piece of Danish modern furniture. "I think my husband is involved with something illegal and very dangerous."
"Maybe you should contact the police, ma'am."
"I don't want the police. I want you to follow him. I've noticed an urgency about Perry's activities in the last couple of weeks. He's usually pretty laid-back. He likes to think of himself as a businessman of leisure."
"Like a pimp?"
"Violins are far more profitable than whores."
I was surprised by how easily the word rolled off the violinist's tongue.
"But Perry hardly seems like a man of leisure these days. His phones are ringing all the time. When he's not out on the terrace playing with his iPhone, he's poking at his BlackBerry. Sometimes he's got them both going." She reached into her bag and pulled out a photo. "Here's a picture of Perry, just so you know what he looks like."
I was a little surprised to see a nicely tanned man, not yet forty, standing beside a tropical swimming pool. He was wearing nothing but a pair of snug swimming trunks. A Speedo. "Are you sending me on a Club Med trip to track your husband?"
"It was the only photo lying around. I overheard him telling somebody that he'd meet them tonight after dinner, but I don't know where."
"You want me to follow him tonight?"
"Yes. He likes an early dinner because he often does business at night. What else can I tell you? He drives a white Jaguar, an SJ8 sedan. We live just around the corner at 115 Willow. Le Palais."
"I know the building."
"Good. I'll give you a call before he finishes his dinner."
I handed back the photo of her husband. "I require a three-thousand-dollar retainer," I said, hoping to put her off with some inflated numerics, "and I charge two hundred dollars an hour. Expenses are extra."
The violinist pulled out a pen and a checkbook. "Will you accept a personal check, Mr. Boyer?"
"One other thing," she said. "I picked up a violin case he left by the front door this morning. It felt funny. Instead of a violin, there was a gun inside."
Rationing the Wings
Late that afternoon, on my way back from checking on a comp claim in Richfield, I stopped at Shorty and Wags on Nicollet to pick up dinner for a couple of nights: two pints of collard greens with turkey, a side of okra, a half pound of chicken gizzards, and a twenty-four pack of wings. Enough fried food to kill a man my size, and I happen to be rather large. I told myself I'd have to ration the wings; no more than eight at a sitting.
I brought the grub back to the office, cleared my desk, and spread the front and back pages of the Star Tribune's Metro section across the desk. The five-day forecast called for hot.
I grabbed a roll of paper towels, plucked out exactly eight wings from the Shorty and Wags bucket, and opened a pint of collard greens. With any luck, I'd finish my supper before
the violinist called. I decided to leave the other pint of collard greens, the okra and the gizzards in my pint-sized fridge, where I found a chilled bottle of Negra Modelo.
I dipped the first wing into a cup of hot vinegar, tore into it, stabbed my plastic fork at the sharp greens, had a sip of beer, then went for another wing. I nodded across the desk to Dylan, who was decked out in a white hat and shirt--the back photo from his Love and Theft album--for the August calendar page. Dylan, with his silly mustache, didn't nod back. The sight of him reminded me of the road trip Rose and I took to Memphis to see the man, a couple of summers earlier.
I dripped a little hot vinegar from my second wing onto Dexter Dunn's column, "All but Dunn," across from the weather page. I used to read Dexter as soon as I got to work in the morning, but I'd recently weaned myself off anything related to politics. I did it for my health. I'd get so wound up about the damage George and the Bushies had done, I thought I'd blow a coronary. And when the election season kicked in, a year and a half ahead of the election, I got strung out watching debates, reading reams of analysis, and firing off pithy posts to the blogs.
During the early debates and preprimary babble of smear and bullshit promises, I'd stand in front of the TV and scream at most of the candidates. When the plague of political ads started up in earnest, I threw spitballs at the screen. For a while, I wiped them off before I went to bed at night, but by Super Tuesday, the TV screen, lumpy with layers of spitballs, had evolved into a trophy of pop art.
Excerpted from The Man in the Blizzard by Bart Schneider. Copyright © 2008 by Bart Schneider. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.