This won’t be in the published book. I hated cutting it but sometimes writers have to kill their darlings. I thought this scene would set up an important event later on in the novel, but it just didn’t work out and the characters it introduced (Erbarth and Rabinowich) never came back into the story in a way that felt natural. Yesterday I faced up to the fact that the scene just didn’t belong in this novel. So I’m making myself feel better about cutting it by letting you see it here. It takes place in the autumn of 1880 in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.
Most days, the lobby of the Continental Hotel was empty at three in the afternoon, and Morgan Earp could understand why Doc Holliday waited until then to practice piano. Morg himself thought it was interesting to listen while Doc worked on something, but other people got tired of the repetition. Even Morgan brought a book with him to the music room.
For over a month now, he’d been reading Lights and Shadows of New York Life; or, Sights and Sensations of the Great City. It was 850 pages – the longest book he’d ever seen, let alone read – but every page had something that surprised him, and Morgan couldn’t stop telling people about each new astonishment.
“Listen to this, James! There are six hundred brothels in New York! And that don’t even count the streetwalkers – says here, there are five thousand of them.”
“Listen to this, Wyatt! Says here, a regular patrolman on a beat gets twelve hundred a year! Maybe we should all move to New York!”
“Listen to this, Virg! Says here, every burglar has his own style of breaking in, so the New York detectives can tell who hit a house. I wonder what gives it away?”
“Listen to this, Doc,” Morgan said when Doc stopped playing for a moment. “Says here, they got one single store in New York with two thousand people working in it! That would be like half the population of Tombstone in just one store – and that don’t count the customers. Jesus! How big would a place have to be to fit so many people in it at one time?”
Doc sighed, and turned away from the piano. “Morgan. Please. The audition is in twenty minutes. I have to concentrate.”
“Sorry. I’ll be quiet.”
It was strange how nerved up Doc was about this. Morgan thought the dentist played piano real well, but Doc himself didn’t think so. “These are serious musicians,” Doc had explained last week. “They trained in Europe. They’ve played in orchestras! When you play in a group, you have to be both perfect and perfectly consistent, or you’ll throw the whole piece off.”
So Doc had been practicing for a couple of hours every afternoon before he went to work – he was dealing faro over at the Alhambra. The dentist wasn’t getting much rest and Morgan was afraid he’d make himself sick, but the funny thing was, Doc actually stopped coughing most of the time he was practicing. When Morg asked why that might be, Doc had seemed surprised.
“Never noticed that myself, but you’re right,” he said thoughtfully. “Must’ve been the same for Chopin. He gave recitals almost to the end.”
“Maybe it’s because you don’t talk while you play.”
“Yes, that’s possible,” Doc had decided. “Steadier respiration…”
“What kinda name is Show Pan?” Morg had asked then. “Sounds Chinese.”
Which made Doc laugh, and cough, and ease up a little.
But on this afternoon, nothing was going to make Doc ease up except getting this damned audition over. He was even making Morgan nervous. They both knew the fiddler – Anton Erbarth, his name was. He played at the Commie-Q Theater back in Dodge and he was real friendly, but he had Doc convinced that the cello player was some kind of hard case so Morgan had stopped by the pharmacy one time just to see what this Ra-bin-o-vich was like.
Just sort of middling, Morg had thought. Not tall, not short. Not fat, not thin. Why, he don’t look so tough, Morgan was thinking just about the time the Russian spotted him.
“You got business here?” Rabinovich demanded. “No? Then get out. No loitering!”
No loitering seemed to be the Russian’s motto, for when he and the fiddler arrived at the Cosmopolitan, he marched straight into the music room with Anton Erbarth hurrying behind him. Without so much as a howdy-do, he pointed at Doc and said, “You are pianist!” like it was an accusation. Doc started to get up, and say something, but the Russian cut him off. “No time,” he said. “I close shop fifteen minutes – no more! Play!”
Behind Rabinovich, the fiddler shrugged, and made a face that said: I know. He’s rude. Don’t argue.
So Doc sat down and began with what Morgan Earp thought of as the “Show-Pan A-tude,” but before Doc could play more than a little of the piece, Erbarth handed Rabinovich a dollar.
“Yes. Enough,” Rabinovich said. “What else?”
Doc blinked, but shrugged and started the Bay-toe-van so-nada.
Erbarth grimaced and handed another dollar to Rabinovich, who said again, “Yes. What else?”
There was a long pause, Doc staring at the cellist before he turned back to the piano and began the Shoe-man.
Another dollar changed hands, but this time Rabinovich shrugged at Erbarth with his palms up and a look on his face like: I told you it was a bad bet.
“Dr. Holliday,” Rabinovich said then, “have you studied anything that was written after you were born? Saint Saëns? Tchaikovsky? Smetana? Dvorák?”
Doc looked huffy – just before he turned blank.
Rabinovich nodded to Erbarth, who handed Doc some sheet music. Frowning, the dentist studied it for a few minutes, then propped it on the piano’s music rack.
“The first sixteen measures,” Rabinovich said.
Doc played them. One hand. The other. Both, slowly.
“Yes. Enough.” When Rabinovich spoke again, he lost the abrupt no-loitering tone and became more thoughtful. “Sight-reading, good. Articulation, also good. My compliments to your teacher.” Doc’s face softened and he started to say something, but the cellist wasn’t done. “Interpretation? Not so good. You work to improve. Of course?”
Dazed, Doc said, “Of course.”
“Rehearsals, seven o’clock, Friday nights,” Rabinovich said, adding mysteriously, “To hell with God.”
Rabinovich turned on his heel and walked away. The fiddler grimaced helplessly and was about to follow him when John Henry Holliday found his voice at last.
“Mr. Rabinovich!” he called.
The cellist turned back toward the piano room, frowning.
Doc picked up two of the three large brown envelopes lying on a table near the piano. He handed one each to Erbarth and Rabinovich.
Erbarth opened his and looked inside before smiling at the dentist. “Father von Angensperg?”
“One of his colleagues in St. Louis sent me the sheet music,” Doc told Erbarth before aiming slate blue eyes on the cellist. “Mr. Rabinovich, I will see your Saint Saëns, and I will raise you this Schumann quartet… Assuming we can do without the viola.”
Eyes narrowed, Aron Rabinovich considered this. “Dr. Holliday,” he said finally, “we can always do without a viola.”
Once again, Rabinovich turned to leave, but he called a challenge over his shoulder. “And if you are good enough? A duet, maybe: the Brahms sonata for cello and piano. Number one. E minor.”
Morgan managed to keep a straight face until he and Doc were alone again in the music room. For a moment, he and Doc just looked at each other.
Then Morg busted out laughing. “My God! Doc, I don’t believe I ever seen you at a loss for words! Jesus! If you coulda seen your face when that Russian– Don’t you know anything from after you was born?’”
“Well, I don’t suppose he knows a great deal about oral pathology, either! That’s what I should’ve said…“
“Looks like you cost the fiddler three bucks, too! The Russian musta known somehow you’d play those first three–“
“Erbarth said they wanted a pianist with trainin’ in European music! So that’s what I played! What else would I have auditioned with? ‘Camptown Races’? ‘Buffalo Gals?’” Doc was looking kind of sore over the matter, but his face changed then and he fell silent, looking past Morgan toward the door to the Cosmopolitan’s lobby. “What’s wrong, Virg?”
Sobering quickly, Morgan got to his feet and turned to his brother.
“Either of you seen Wyatt?” Virgil asked them.
“He was due back from Millville around noon,” Morgan told him, “but James got a telegram saying he was delayed. Why? What’s wrong?”
“It’s Mattie,” Virgil said. “Really bad this time.”