This question is posed across the aisle at a table on the patio of a coffee shop and the short answer is washed out by the sound of a passing gravel truck. Two men, aged thirty-something are speaking across lattes, muffins, and a local music-scene magazine, open to the cheap ads, reviews and articles at the back. The querent has one finger on the page – the other sits a little sideways and twists his neck in order to align his view of the periodical for reading.
“If you were to pick up any instrument early in your life, you could master it. I have no doubt about that.”
“I don’t know. As a pianist, I’m not so sure. The process of learning is just that, a process – you’ve said yourself it never ends. Do you think some people are reed people? Some are strings? Some are keyboards? You’re never going to excel if you try an instrument that isn’t part of your makeup. So, what the fuck is up with a slide? Who seeks that out as an option?”
“It’s likely someone searching for a sound. An accident. Fretless bass, fretless horn. Listen to the greats. And look around – it’s not just New Orleans Jazz. The things are popping up everywhere.”
A lineup has begun to form at the front door. Downtown workers, office folk exiting early from the cubes and hoping to grab a seat quickly – back to meetings this afternoon – no time to dawdle.
“I don’t think they ever left. Maybe you’re starting to look in different places. I see them all the time, and not just in the jazz arena.”
“Ok, whatever. We’re off point. Regardless, imagine this – a kid enters band class in grade seven – first day of school. His mom dropped him off late because there was something wrong with the hair dryer, curling iron, whatever. The kid is last in, and there on the board is the instrument list – full up, except for the goddamned trombone. Doesn’t matter that he has arms like a T-Rex, that he has no lips, not a hope in hell of ever developing an embouchure. The kid is stuck with a trombone. And the case – is there anything more revealing to a crowd of bus passengers that you were the last guy into the band room on day one than a trombone case?”
“Maybe the whole thing turned him into an animal. A time-bomb. When people are growing up, admiring rock and roll, listening and sharing – this new wonderful connection with friends – the band that truly rocks the planet – the one everyone wants to see, or be for that matter. Where in this conversation is there any room for a trombone? Am I right?”
“I see that.”
“Alright. So, what if the kid has some kind of spine, or some kind of axe to grind? Maybe he has nowhere else to go. Maybe he has a bulgy body, like his case. Maybe he’s as skinny as lubed tubing and has a head like a brass bell. I don’t know. Maybe he likes the trombone – maybe he loves the feel of it. Maybe this kid with an affinity for the trombone can’t find a place.”
The server moves down the aisle – there is little room and his apron up-ends a menu – it spins, nicks the table and slaps open on the floor, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.’
A diner reaches to help, leans in and they bump heads – hard – both bent at the waist.
“Ahhh, Fuck!” The waiter staggers backward, one arm over his face – the guest holds his forehead in both hands and they begin to apologize toward separate quadrants of empty air.
The entire side of the patio turns to view the source of the exclamation. Most are smiling. Two adjacent tables empty of patrons – four people reaching for the arm of the waiter, checking his condition – assessing the damage. It’s a busyness not normally felt in this air and the diners fuss over cutlery or drinks, waiting for calm.
The guest, hunched over a plate of pasta, head in his hands – immobile. No one checks to see if he’s ok.
“Heads are strong, he’ll be ok.”
“So he goes through life learning and enjoying. There can’t be anything wrong with that. Every instrument has its community. He’d be exposed to big-band, be-bop, jazz, hell – marching bands sweep across genres – that’s always an early-learner staple. Put on the harness and walk a hundred miles in a parade. You’d have plenty of company.”
“Yeah, but there’s still that busload of people. And even worse – there is the inside of his head, committed to the instrument yet watching for glances – you can’t hide a trombone case.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“Just trying to get inside. Mom made him late, the gang at school doesn’t accept him. He trombones his way through life – kind of an odd duck. But maybe a talented odd duck.”
“But this story – it’s just not possible,” again, querent folds the newspaper to the picture and the caption and points, “How do you do that? Where did they find the body?”
“In the living room of his apartment.”
“Robbery? Maybe the guy had a backpack filled with shit from other apartments, laptop, antique pocket watch, jewellery. So he’s in this trombone players apartment, the guy comes home from a gig, sees the door-jamb broken, swings the door open to find someone rifling through his stuff. What then?”
“I honestly don’t know. Could it be that simple? Maybe he was sitting practicing. Had the weapon up – ready.”
“Maybe. Could have been a love triangle – band-guy invites other guy over for a quick tryst, both discover they’re on different teams, maybe the invitee freaks out and calls him names. Bang – lights out.”
“What about pre-meditated? Jealous of somebody’s place in the lineup – maybe somebody got worried about being punted. You’re about to be replaced by another guy, invite him over and whack him. Or, maybe he just wanted to off somebody. A musical, murdering prodigy.”
“Regardless, the question remains, how did he do it? With a cymbal you can Frisbee someone’s neck, with a guitar you can hammer a head in or use a string as a garrote. But how the hell do you kill someone with a trombone?”