The Trumpet

Eli raised the trumpet to his lips and played. From somewhere within the gleaming metal curves of the instrument, a high-pitched sound came out. He watched as the valves of his trumpet rose up and down rapidly, resting for short periods of time when it played a long note. The patrons listening to it cheered, delighted by its remarkably innovative sound. Eli surveyed the speakeasy while it played, his eyes finally resting on its owner and his employer, Mr. Gardner.

Although Gardner was nearly sixty, you wouldn’t guess it from looking at him. He had a kind face, but with eyes that betrayed an inner steel that made him exceptionally good at what he did. Eli respected this man, who had recognized his talent and given him a job. Gardner noticed Eli looking at him, and gave him a small smile. The trumpet kept playing throughout this brief exchange.

Eli stepped out of the speakeasy onto the street, moving quickly and furtively. New Orleans was a good place to get robbed, especially when carrying something as valuable as a trumpet. Prohibition hadn’t helped things either, creating an opportunity for gangs to grow even more powerful than before.

Gardner regarded the man approaching him through his light gray eyes. Was it a mugger? His hand closed around the butt of the pistol just under his jacket. However, as the man got closer and Gardner noticed his slightly ragged clothes, he realized the man wasn’t a threat.

“Sir, ah bet you five dollars ah know where you got those shoes.” the man said confidently. Gardner relaxed completely. He knew this scam, and had plenty of fond memories of it from his days on the street.

“Very well then. We have a deal.” Gardner said agreeably.

“You got them on your feet” the man exclaimed, holding out his hand hopefully. Gardner reached into his pocket and gave him a ten-dollar bill.

Duvalier sighed. Why had business been so slow lately? It had taken almost all of his profit to pay for last month’s protection. And that wasn’t a deal he could get out of, even if he wanted to. It seemed like Gardner’s place drew all the customers, his place all the cops.

Eli sat down and pulled out his trumpet. He paused for a moment to admire its smooth, perfect features, then stood up and put the new King Oliver record on the gramophone. The trumpet played along perfectly, mimicking King Oliver’s part.

Most people think that the musician plays the music. But Eli knew better. The instrument does all the real work. You just had to know how to tell it what to do. He recalled seeing this instrument in the window of a shop and knowing it had been made for him. It had been quite expensive, but Gardner had helped pay for it on the condition that Eli keep playing at his speakeasy, which Eli had readily agreed to.

Jimmy Thompson stepped into Gardner’s place with an expression of distaste on his small, ratty face. He was jealous of this place, hated being stuck working for Duvalier who operated the speakeasy down the street.

Jimmy listened to the performance admiringly. So this was the reason Gardner’s place had been drawing all the crowds lately. After it was over, he approached Eli and made him an offer to play at Duvalier’s place, which he turned down.

Gardner watched Jimmy talk to Eli. He already knew exactly what was being said. You didn’t last long in his business by being naïve. Gardner approached Jimmy after they were done talking, and clearly expressed his distaste for attempts to scare off his musician.

Duvalier knew something was wrong. Why hadn’t Jimmy returned yet? It seemed like Gardner was always bothering him, getting in his way. Suddenly, he heard someone knock on the door. He ran over to the bar and put all the liquor into the secret space.

Da’gosta heard him moving around inside, no doubt hiding the booze. All the police officers knew this place. Hell, half of them had been there before. This had better not be another false alarm, the brass always got mad when a warrant turned up nothing. He knocked again, more insistently, while his partner stood waiting.

The door opened suddenly, revealing a large, slightly flustered looking man with greasy hair.

“Problem, officers?” he asked.

“Yes. We have reason to believe that this place sells liquor illegally, and a warrant to search it.“ Duvalier let them in. Da’gosta walked over to the bar and tapped the place that the informant had said would reveal the liquor. There it was. He turned to the panicked Duvalier, and started to read him his rights.

Duvalier started running. He made a mad dash past the two police officers, pulling out his gun as he went. He ran straight towards Gardner’s place. It was all his fault! Gardner had done this somehow, probably tipped off the police.

Eli was playing. This was no doubt the best performance his trumpet had ever given. The patrons were all listening, tapping their foot to the time of the music. Suddenly the door burst open. A man Eli had never seen ran in, a gun in his hand. Eli stopped playing and ducked behind a nearby table as the speakeasy turned into chaos. Time seemed to slow as he saw the man turn towards Gardner and pull the trigger once, twice. Gardner fell back, a surprised expression on his face.

Eli Dunhart visited Gardner every day for two weeks. The doctors said he would live, but he would have trouble operating the speakeasy. Eli left on the next train for New York. It was time to move on.

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