Book #12 of the Dick Hardesty Mysteries, by the late, great Dorien Grey
Grant Jefferson joins the Gay Men’s Chorus as a protégé of its biggest supporter, and begins causing more dischord than harmony. Determined he’s going to Broadway, Grant sees the chorus as the means to his end, and doesn’t care much how many of the other members he uses as his stepping stones—or how hard they get stepped on.
So, when a car bomb ends Grant’s plans to be a star on The Great White Way, there is no shortage of possible suspects; and when the chorus’ board of directors hires Dick Hardesty to see what he can find out about the murder, he ends up in a case as complicated as a madrigal.
I did have occasion to get a small assignment from Glen O’Banyon, which gave me the opportunity to stop by his office and talk with him for a few minutes. I brought up the subject of the chorus as subtly as possible, telling him we’d gone to one of Booth’s get-togethers and met his nephew Grant.
Glen gave me a raised eyebrow and small smile.
“Ah, yes, his ‘nephew.’ Crandall has a very large family, it appears. This is the first one who sings, however. Roger Rothenberger is not overly happy with…Grant, is it?”
“Well, I’m sure Grant will be on his way as soon as he has accomplished whatever it was he set out to accomplish.”
Though I didn’t say anything, I realized Jefferson’s goal might well be to add his being a soloist with the chorus to his résumé. However, I couldn’t resist mentioning the conflict revolving around the “I Am What I Am” solo and that the guy who was set to do it had been involved in a near-fatal accident.
Another raised eyebrow, but no smile this time.
“And you’re suggesting…?”
I quickly raised a hand in not-overly-convincing protest.
“No, no. I’m suggesting nothing. Strange things do happen. But I’d hate to see the chorus torn apart over all this.” I was tempted to mention the Porsche and Jim Bowers’ faulty memory but figured I’d said enough for the moment.
“Well,” Glen said, “I know Crandall does like to throw his weight around and I know he and Roger have had their run-ins. But Roger isn’t hesitant in standing up to him. And despite the chorus’ being seriously inconvenienced without Crandall’s financial support, the board won’t let him go too far. I really hadn’t been aware that the ‘nephew’ was being such a disruption. I’ll keep my eyes and ears a little more open until this all blows over. The last thing any of us wants is for the chorus to suffer, or to risk losing Roger—he’s the heart and soul of it all.”
“Aren’t games fun?” I asked.
Glen shrugged and grinned.
I left shortly thereafter, feeling a little better about things. I knew part of my concern was for Jonathan. I didn’t want anything to stand in the way of his enjoying every minute of his time with the chorus.
Jonathan spoke with Eric and a few other chorus members several times during the week and over the weekend, and the usual quietly bubbling fountain of rumors had become a geyser. Jerry and Tony, one the couples I’d met at Booth’s, were close to breaking up over Grant’s intrusion into their relationship. The only reason this particular piece of news was raised above the level of high school gossip was that Tony and Jerry had been together for a number of years, and I always truly hate to see couples break up.
But most of the rumors concerned a reported major confrontation between Roger Rothenberger and Crandall Booth—it wasn’t hard to figure out what it might have been about. How anybody knew anything about it at all was, as with all rumors, rather vague, but I’d not be surprised if Grant had been behind it.
Jonathan returned from rehearsal the next Tuesday with a story right out of a soap opera. Just before they were set to rehearse the last song of the night, Jerry had stormed into the room in a rage and made a lunge at Grant, apparently with the intent to beat the crap out of him. Some of the other members grabbed him while Grant took off and sped away in his baby-blue Porsche.
Then Jerry started yelling at Tony and had the poor guy practically in tears. Roger finally had to order Jerry to get out. Jonathan wasn’t quite sure what it was all about, but it really rattled everyone, and Roger ended the rehearsal early.
“I’d have been home earlier,” Jonathan added, “except that a lot of us hung around outside talking about it.”
Significantly, earlier in the evening they had rehearsed “I Am What I Am” with Grant singing the solo. But also significant, Jonathan said, was Roger’s all but totally ignoring Grant, saying nothing at all about his performance, making no suggestions and no comments. Instead, he had concentrated on honing the parts of the rest of the chorus.
This snub was lost on no one, and Jonathan was truly concerned that the rift was seriously and negatively affecting the entire chorus. I assumed he was overreacting, but then, I wasn’t there, nor was I familiar with all the dynamics of the situation.
I was paying more attention to the goings-on of the chorus than I normally would have had I been, say, working on a really interesting case. But because it was so important to Jonathan, it was important to me.
Life at home went smoothly enough, with fish feedings and plant waterings and Saturday chores and evening Story Times. There was also a brief trip to Mercy Memorial on Saturday afternoon, squeezed in between the dry cleaners and the grocery store, for Jonathan to visit Jim Bowers. Bowers was making steady improvement, though he still could not—or would not—give any details of the accident. Jonathan told me he didn’t believe him—odd for Jonathan—but had said nothing to Jim.
Growing thunder in the storm clouds hovering over the chorus were evinced by even more phone calls than on the previous week. That Jim would quite likely be able to return before the next concert—and thereby take back the solo honors on “I Am What I Am”—appeared to be fomenting a minor insurgency among Grant’s supporters, with hints that, if he were denied the solo, he and his supporters might boycott the concert. Such a rebellion could have possibly forced its cancellation, or at the very least sabotaged its impact.
All this over one song! I still couldn’t help but shake my head every time I thought about it. This had moved well beyond the stage of being a tempest in a teapot and was now passing a typhoon in a soup tureen. I hoped it would all blow over before the chorus suffered irreparable damage.
A week later, as Jonathan was getting ready for rehearsal, Eric called to ask if he could give him a ride there, as he was having problems with his car—a huge old white 1968 Dodge only slightly smaller than a lifeboat from the Queen Mary. Jonathan immediately agreed, which meant he had to leave practically right from the dinner table.
When he got home, I asked him, as always, how rehearsal went.
“Well,” he said, “I got a flat tire halfway to Eric’s, for starters, so we were about fifteen minutes late getting there. But Grant didn’t show up at all, and he hadn’t called anyone to say he wouldn’t be there. Mr. Rothenberger didn’t say anything, but I don’t think he was too happy about it.”
The reason for Grant’s absence was made abundantly clear by the next morning’s local news. The lead story opened with a shot of a reporter standing amidst police vehicles, an ambulance, and fire trucks, talking about a car explosion “…shattering windows in neighboring buildings.” The camera then panned across a debris field to a mangled car, most of which was hidden beneath a bright-yellow tarp.
“The unidentified driver,” the reporter said, “was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the explosion is unknown.”
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