Luca went to the couch near the window, sitting down on the uneven cushions. He set his glass on the coffee table before grabbing an old copy of Brooklyn Rail. He'd been reading an article about bygone day artists whose collection of works were displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art three years ago. He was more interested in the list of paintings by the various artists than he was in the long-passed public exhibit. He was inexplicably drawn to four artists in particular: Howard Russell Butler, Jeanne Hébuterne, Philip Hugh Padwick and John Quidor. The two Americans – Butler and Quidor – were known for their works Bald Head Cliff and The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane. French-born Hébuterne, a tragic figure who committed suicide after the death of her lover Amedeo Modigliani in 1920, had created a rather sad painting known as Death in 1919. Padwick, the only Englishman in the group, was famous for his early 20th century oil Looking Toward Chanctonbury.
For several days, Luca had been wrestling with the idea of recreating the four pieces rather than attempting an original work of his own. He sometimes made extra money doing art replications, but he often found it difficult to emulate the different styles and types of classic artists. And although it was perfectly legal, he felt guilty about the reproductions, knowing deep in his heart he should be devoting his time to original artwork that sprang from his own abilities and not someone else's. However, since his own artistic style was mostly realism, with a touch of painterly and impressionism on occasion, he was comfortable with the idea of portrait renditions.
Shrugging, Luca tossed the magazine on the coffee table. "I have to survive," he whispered to himself. "I'll do what I have to do in order to survive." Draining the wine from his umber glass, he rose from the couch and made his way to the easel nearby. Placing a fresh piece of drawing paper on the wooden surface, he began sketching an outline for Jeanne Hébuterne's Death. "This should be easy enough," he muttered as he worked. "There's not much to this painting, really. I can probably kick it out in under four hours."
After several minutes, he went to the bookcase to retrieve a mixture of paints to create shades of yellow, orange, red, black, gray, brown and light green. As he worked, the sun began to set, depriving him of natural light. Setting the paints aside, he reached over to the wall to flip the switch on the dim, bare-bulb light overhead. It flickered in typical fashion for a few seconds before becoming steady in a weak, low-wattage glow. He went to the kitchen to refill his glass, and then began to paint in earnest, frequently referring to the photograph of the original Hébuterne from Brooklyn Rail.
Thirty minutes and another glass of wine later, Luca thought he heard the strains of a waltz. The music seemed to be drifting in from far away, as if it was echoing in the hallway on the other side of his door. He paused in his painting, listening closely. He recognized the waltz, the knowledge sending a shiver up his spine. If he wasn't mistaken, it was the music from the old TV series Dark Shadows, which he had watched as a child. Known as Quentin's Theme, the piece of music had been composed by Robert "Bob" Cobert and had originally been called "Shadows of the Night." It was a haunting waltz, more appropriate for the set of a spooky television serial than a hallway in a broken down warehouse in SoHo, New York.
Luca set his paintbrush on the easel shelf, stepping away from the portrait. He had to know where the music was coming from, and who was playing it. Since Izzy Richards was the newest occupant of the Ramsey Building, Luca assumed the music was coming from her loft. It would be unlike Elva Peabody to play music at all. She preferred her television game shows and late-night talk programs, all listened to at a deafening volume. There wasn't anyone else living on the second floor at the moment, so to Luca the source of the music was obvious. It had to be Izzy.
Briefly impressed that Izzy liked Quentin's Theme enough to play it, Luca decided to check it out. He didn't cotton to the idea of a vagrant or newly-acquired felonious patient rooting in the hallway, Quentin's Theme notwithstanding. He wanted to make sure Izzy was the musical culprit and not one of her band of criminals.
Taking the last swallow of wine from his glass, Luca made his way to the door. Unlocking all three deadbolts, he cracked the door open cautiously. The hallway was dim, as usual, but he couldn't see anyone loitering about. In fact, the hallway was empty, back-dropped by the fading waltz. He stepped into the hall, closing his door behind him. He began to walk slowly, drawn by the sound of the music. The waltz was definitely becoming a bit louder, but it was not coming from Izzy's flat. He stopped and put his ear to her door, but only silence greeted him. He could hear the loud television blaring from Mrs. Peabody's loft, so he didn't bother to stop and listen at her door.
He kept walking until he came to the end of the hall, where he found himself standing in front of apartment 2E. He was suddenly overwhelmed with a perfume scent he could not quite put his finger on. To him, it had a sweet, aromatic odour of unburned tobacco. However, it came and went so quickly he was almost sure he'd imagined it.
The door to 2E was different than the others as it faced into the hall rather than opening from the sides. As far as Luca knew, the loft had never been rented but always remained firmly locked. He has never cared enough to ask anyone about it before now, preferring to mind his own business and not get entangled into the private lives of the other residents.
He glanced upward to the half-mooned transom window above the door. He was shocked to see light coming from the window, as if someone inside was burning a lamp. He could hear the music clearly now. It was definitely coming from the secured flat. The haunting echoes of the waltz were even clearer when he put his ear to the door, although he could tell it wasn't being played over loudly. How could he hear it so well from his flat, then? Behind his own closed door?
Luca stood motionless for several seconds, drawing in his breath as the waltz faded and ended. Then it began again. This time he noticed crackling sounds in the music, as if someone was playing an old, scratched vinyl record on a turntable. He pushed his ear harder against the door, hoping to hear something that would validate the presence of light and music coming from the unoccupied loft, such as footsteps moving about or human conversation. But there was nothing. Then suddenly the music stopped, and the light shining through the transom was extinguished. He was momentarily stunned. There had to be someone in the flat. How else could the waltz be explained? And the light? His body went cold, the unease creeping up from his toes.
He was so focused on his thoughts that Luca failed to hear Mrs. Peabody's door open, or detect the unmistakable odour of cat urine emanating from inside her flat.
"What are you doing there?" the old woman demanded, her high-pitched resonance shocking him from his concentration. "Is that you, Luca?"
He turned to look at her, a sheepish grin forming on his lips. "It's me, Mrs. P. Not to worry." He took in her painfully thin stature and surprisingly bright blue eyes. She had short, frizzy gray hair which always seem to be tightly bound in old pink sponge curlers, perfectly matching her striped bathrobe and floppy slippers. Every time he saw her, she was wearing a different coloured bathrobe. While most all of them were threadbare, she seemed to have a large variety of them – striped, polka-dotted, floral, holiday-themed, and many adorned with images of cats.
"What are you doing?" she repeated, clutching her frayed pink bathrobe around her neck.
With one last glance at 2E, Luca stepped closer to the elderly woman. "I thought I heard music coming from the empty loft," he told her. "I came to see what was going on."
"Music?" Mrs. Peabody asked, a puzzled expression on her face. She angled her head slightly, as if listening. "I don't hear any music."
Luca glanced down at her feet. He saw four of the old woman's cats, who were of varying colours and sizes, sitting near her purple-veined, swollen ankles. "The music stopped," he defended himself, albeit in a kindly tone. "But earlier, I could hear it all the way into my apartment. That's what brought me into the hallway."
Mrs. Peabody pursed her lips. "You need to tell Eugene about it. He should check inside the loft to make sure no one is squatting in there."