Second Fiddle

Second Fiddle

by Edward Marston

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Jeremy Bakewell was a quiet, unassuming, law-abiding man. It had never occurred to him that he would one day contemplate murder. Then, out of the blue, Constance Holliday came into his life. Without even realising it, she managed to turn a friendly, reliable, decent human being into a potential killer. It happened during the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

From the very start, Jeremy had been doomed to play second fiddle. He had been born on the second day of the second month of the year at the second attempt-so to speak-his twin brother having entered the world several minutes before him and therefore in a position to welcome Jeremy’s own appearance with lusty howls of protest. Jeremy’s polite whimper marked him down from the start as the also-ran.

It was James Bakewell who had the privileged childhood and the glittering career as a concert pianist. Jeremy remained in his shadow-a competent musician who had been conditioned to aspire to no higher a place than one among the second violins. While James Bakewell became an international star, Jeremy became an anonymous member of the Royal Philharmonic.

Twenty years brought no change in his status. Jeremy’s position in the second violins was as intact as ever. His unassuming personality prevented his relationships with woman from going any further either. For a while he maintained a fleeting obsession with Lynette Cooper, the bosomy cellist who grappled with her instrument as if making passionate love to it, but by the time Jeremy gained enough courage to invite her out for a meal, he discovered that he had already succumbed to the blandishments of a bearded Lothario in the brass section. It was disheartening but not entirely unexpected. Programmed to settle for second best, Jeremy gritted his teeth and played on in resigned silence, a difficult pose to maintain in an orchestra, especially when it is giving a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony.

It was Martin Kemble who finally took pity on Jeremy. A talented flautist, Kemble was something of a joker, who-along with most of the other musicians-had often teased Jeremy. However, there had always been an affection behind his mockery. During a break in rehearsals, he took his friend aside. “I’ve just heard,” he confided, “that Alistair is going to retire.”

“Never!” said Jeremy with surprise. “Alistair Lumley is one of the best violinists in Britain. He lives for his music. He’ll never retire.”

“Mother Nature has other ideas. She’s started to remind him how old he is. The arthritis has got a real hold on his hip now. There are other problems as well. Suffice it to say that Alistair has decided to quit while he can still hold his instrument. That will create a big gap in the first violins, Jeremy. I think you should fill it.”

“Me?”

“Yes. You’ve been playing second fiddle for too long.”

Jeremy was hesitant. “Am I ready to move up?”

“Of course you are,” encouraged Kemble. “Your brother feels the same.”

“James?”

“Yes. After he played the Grieg Piano Concerto with us, the great James Bakewell said that you didn’t really belong in the second violins.”

“Is that what he told you?” asked Jeremy, hurt that his brother had never spoken to him directly on the subject.

“Those were his very words, according to Lynette.”

“Lynette Cooper?”

“Yes,” explained Kemble with a grin. “Over a brandy, I daresay. Didn’t you know that your brother whisked her off to the Ritz Hotel after his performance? That’s where she got her latest nickname from.”

“Nickname?”

“The Bakewell Tart.”

Jeremy cringed. His brother’s renown as a virtuoso was matched only by his reputation as a compulsive womaniser. Even though James Bakewell was married to one of those beautiful, ethereal blondes that concert pianists always seem to attract, he felt the need to spread his love generously among the female members of the world’s best orchestras. Jeremy wished that, of all people, it had not been Lynette Cooper’s turn to play a nocturnal duet with him and he smarted at the fact that the brotherly remark about his deserving promotion to the first violins had reached him second-hand.

“Go for it!” urged Kemble. “You deserve it, Jeremy.”

For once in his life, Jeremy felt the flames of ambition flicker. The tip-off from Kemble gave him an early advantage over any of his colleagues who might apply for the vacant position. It allowed him vital extra time to practice what he knew would be the conductor’s audition piece. Tarquin Roebuck was a Sibelius man through and through. The dark, brooding violin concerto in D minor, opus 47 was his preferred choice. It was also-Jeremy later came to realize-an overture to murder. His first meeting with the intended victim took place weeks later.

“Hello,” she said with an imperious smile. “I’m Constance Holliday.”

“Jeremy Bakewell,” he muttered, sheepishly.

“Brother of the more famous James, I gather.”

“Yes.”

“Poor man! That must be a crippling disability.” It was more of a gibe than an expression of sympathy.

Constance Holliday bared a row of hideous teeth before sweeping off to her date with destiny and Jeremy was left gasping in her slipstream. The vacant post would be filled by one of them. Others had applied for it but only two now remained in contention. The haughty Constance was marginally older than Jeremy-a tall, stringy woman with the face of a Gorgon but a talent that had gotten her into the London Symphony Orchestra and a distinguished string quartet. Eager to play symphonic music again, she had applied for the post with the Royal Philharmonic, seeing it as a stepping stone in her bid to become leader in due course.

Jeremy smouldered with anger. To be pushed into second place yet again would be galling enough but the thought that a supercilious woman with serious dental problems might oust him was humiliating. It put steel into his resolve. When the time came, he did not play Sibelius like a no-hoper trying to lift his head above the parapet of the second violins. He attacked the piece as if his life depended on it. Tarquin Roebuck, a neurotic stick insect with arms like supplementary batons, was patently impressed by the way he tackled the first-movement cadenza, the long, serene melody of the second movement, and the pulsing rhythm of the finale. Jeremy Bakewell did not merely play the concerto-he explored its darkest frontiers.

“Brilliant,” said Tarquin, clapping his hands.

“Does that mean I have the position?” asked a breathless Jeremy.

“I’m afraid not. Frankly, there’s nothing to choose between the two of you. You both gave faultless performances. However, Constance Holliday’s range of experience gives her a slight edge. Also… I shouldn’t really tell you this, I suppose, but I feel that you have a right to know. Alistair recommended her.”

Jeremy blinked. “Over me?”

“Yes.

“Did I have no chance at all, Tarquin?”

“Of course. But you were pipped at the post by Constance.”

He saw the distress in the other man’s face and sought to comfort him. “Next time, however, there’ll be no need to audition. When a second vacancy occurs in the first violins, Jeremy, it’s yours.”

It was small consolation. Jeremy had been defeated by someone with equal, but by no means, superior talent. A kind word in her favour from Alistair Lumley had consigned him to a supporting role once more. Whatever happened to friendship? Why didn’t Alistair show loyalty to his colleague? It was agonising. What made the pain more intense was the victor’s overweening arrogance.

“I was inspired in there today,” she boasted. “I’ve never played Sibelius better.”

“Nor have I,” countered Jeremy.

“Yes, but you lack my flair. Besides, the Bakewell family already has one musical genius in it-your brother James. To have two would be asking for the impossible. Stay in the safety of the second violins,” she said with a patronising smirk. “They also serve who sit and support.”

The woman was insufferable. Moving into the Royal Philharmonic as if she were its acknowledged star, Constance Holliday managed to upset, offend, or alienate almost everyone around her. The one person who liked her was Tarquin Roebuck, the anorexic conductor. And she was, undeniably, a fine violinist. Jeremy was the first to admit that. But he had also come to appreciate his own talent as a musician and to feel that it was time to fight for some kind of recognition.

During the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, a wild idea took hold of him. The orchestra was playing at the Birmingham Symphony Hall, a splendid arena for music but not until then, perhaps, a breeding ground for homicidal inclinations.

From his lowly position in the second violins, Jeremy could see her clearly, sawing away at her instrument with the vigour of a lumberjack yet producing divine music in the process. Constance Holliday had to go. Not only was she the most hated member of the Royal Philharmonic, she was a constant reminder of Jeremy’s own failure. At every opportunity, she crowed over him with a pleasure that was almost sadistic.

The best way to create a vacancy in the first violins was to remove her, thereby advancing himself and gaining revenge all in one swipe. As his mind toyed with the possibilities, he played on by means of automatic pilot. A musical death would be the most appropriate. A small canister of deadly cyanide gas, concealed in her instrument so that it would explode at the first touch of the bow? A poisonous spider lurking between the pages of her music, ready to strike when her fingers reached out? A venomous snake hidden in her violin case? Pleasing notions but far too impractical. Jeremy had to bide his time. It would mean that he would have to soak up scores of fresh insults from her, but this would only serve to stiffen his commitment to kill her.

His chance finally came in Turkey. After a triumphant performance in Istanbul, the orchestra had a few days to relax before flying on to Athens. Most of them decided to take a boat trip on the Bosporus. Jeremy was keen to join them but arrived just as the boat was pulling away from the quay, collecting jeers of derision from his colleagues. He was forced to wait for a second boat. And there was an added handicap. Another violinist had been too slow off the mark.

“Why didn’t they wait for me?” demanded Constance, surging up to him.

“The boat was full,” said Jeremy.

“That’s no excuse. They could have made room for me somehow.”

“There’s another boat due in five minutes.”

“I suppose that that will have to do,” she moaned. Her teeth glinted in a sly grin. “Well, we might as well make the most of it, Jeremy. The two of us-alone at last. It will give us the opportunity to get to know each other a little better.”

It was a grim thought-one which was quickly supplanted by a slightly more palatable one in Jeremy’s fevered mind. None of their colleagues would be aboard. No witnesses.

“Can you swim, Constance?” he asked, artlessly.

“Heavens, no! A violinist has to protect her hands.”

“Quite so.”

“Water always makes my palms look like stewed prunes.”

When the boat drew up alongside the wharf, the pair of them got into it with the other passengers. The vessel soon set off. Constance was as waspish as ever.

“Your brother thinks that your career is on the slide,” she observed.

“James?” he said vaguely. His mind was busy weighing the possibilities of his next move.

“He played with the London Symphony orchestra recently. Mozart, I believe.”

“And he mentioned me?”

“According to Hannah Margrave. An oboist. She’s a friend of mine.”

Jeremy could imagine the circumstances under which the comment was made. It was embarrassing to be reminded that the only time James was sufficiently interested in passing judgement on his twin brother’s work was when he was between the sheets of an adulterous bed with his latest conquest.

“You’re not really twins at all, are you?” prodded Constance.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re so different in every way. James Bakewell is really successful.”

That was it. The final insult that sealed her fate. Jeremy was determined. When the boat reached the deepest part of the water, circumstances suddenly worked in his favour. The two musicians were alone in the stern. All of the other passengers had their backs to them. Constance thrust a highly expensive camera into Jeremy’s hands and insisted that he take her photograph. Hands on her hips, she stood near the bulwark with a condescending smile on her face. Jeremy sensed that his moment had come.

“Back a little,” he advised. “A little further.”

“Make sure you press the right button,” she said, moving back.

“Of course. Sit on the bulwark, Constance.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“Nonsense,” he said, crossing to her to arrange her pose. “Just rest lightly against it. One leg up. That’s better. It’ll make the perfect picture.”

The perfect picture of Constance Holliday could only be taken at her funeral-that was his considered opinion. Pretending to adjust her position by touching her shoulder, he instead gave her a sudden push that sent her over the stern of the boat into the foaming water. She disappeared from sight and his heart lifted. But he had to appear innocent of her murder and that could only be done in one way. Running up the boat, he waved his arms in despair.

“Someone overboard!” he cried. “Help! Help!”

Crew and passengers looked at him in surprise, not understanding him at first.

“Help!” he shouted. “My friend fell overboard.”

Grabbing the first lifebelt, he hurled it over the stern, then sent three others trailing in its wake none of them anywhere near the stricken violinist. By the time the boat had slowed and turned, he reasoned, a woman who could not swim would have drowned-dragged down to the bottom of the Bosporus by the weight of her own malice. Jeremy had committed a murder that would send waves of delight through the rest of the orchestra. Moreover, he had gotten away with it. Or so he thought. But Constance Holliday was not ready to meet her Maker just yet. Coming to the surface with sudden urgency, she threshed around madly and yelled at the top of her voice, “Save me, Jeremy! Please, please! Save me!”

The murder victim had turned into a damsel in distress. Having plotted her demise, Jeremy Bakewell was now overtaken by a fatal impulse of gallantry. Instead of gloating over her predicament, he dived headlong into the water, swimming powerfully in her direction. Crew and passengers cheered him on in his bold rescue bid. Constance vanished, reappeared, vanished once more, then bobbed up for the last time. Her strength had gone and she had no more breath to call out. At the very moment when she was about to sink beneath the waves forever, Jeremy got to her, turned her on her back and, in a manoeuvre that he had been taught as a boy, secured her with one arm while he kicked his legs and swam backwards.

Minutes later, the pair of them were hauled aboard the boat. Jeremy was cursing himself for his bravado. Given the chance to dispose of a hated rival once and for all, he had instead saved her life. When she recovered from the ordeal, she would surely point the finger at him as the man who had deliberately tried to kill her. He was caught. But his fears proved to be illusory. When the panting Constance had expelled a few pints of water from her mouth, she opened her eyes and looked up at him with a gratitude that bordered on worship.

“My hero!” she exclaimed.

Success had come at last. When the rest of the orchestra heard about his bravery, Jeremy Bakewell became the centre of attention. It was he-and not his brother, James-who was the virtuoso now, praised highly on all ides. Lynette Cooper threw herself at him, arguing that there was only one way to celebrate his triumph and allowing him the supreme pleasure of turning her down. Tarquin Roebuck kept kissing him on both cheeks and Constance Holliday actually winked roguishly at him. Men who had mocked him now shook his hand. Women who had sniggered now competed to get near him.

It was Martin Kemble who pointed out the main consequence of his heroism. “You’ll be on all the front pages tomorrow, Jeremy,” he said.

“Will I?”

“In one mighty leap, you’ve achieved international stardom.”

“Have I?”

“You’ll never have to play second fiddle after this.”

But the prediction proved cruelly inaccurate. Jeremy Bakewell’s dreams of fame were soon shattered. On the very day that he rescued the woman he had tried to murder, an earthquake occurred in Eastern Turkey, a military coup was attempted in Ankara, and the country’s most popular vocalist won the Eurovision song contest. The following morning, Jeremy scanned the pages of every newspaper he could get his hands, but they were dominated by domestic concerns. There was not even the tiniest mention of his heroism in the cold water. It was as if it never happened. Constance Holiday made a vain attempt to cheer him up.

“Never mind, Jeremy,” she said, helpfully. “It may turn up in the second editions.”

It would be fitting if it did.

The End

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