The older, distinguished looking gentleman wandered into Callahan's on a Tuesday which is the absolutely the worst day of the week to do so if all you happen to want is a drink. Tuesday night is what we call Punday where the worst punster at the end of the night has his bar bill refunded. The stranger was about 6 foot, lanky with a mop of grey hair that somehow managed to look stylishly mussed rather than messy and gray blue eyes that seemed to see everything. His face seemed familiar but I couldn't place it. He was wearing a nice set of trousers, a lavender button down silk shirt and a brown leather duster like jacket. He ordered scotch, neat, in a smooth baritone with just a hint of a British accent. He didn't seem surprised by the price and the house rules regarding glasses and the fireplace. He simply paid, accepted his drink and ensconced himself in one of the comfortable armchairs in the corner out of the main traffic patterns but with a full view of the room.
The topic for the evening was clothing and fashion. Long Drink was first out of the box with a comment that the topic was a waist of time. I retorted that he should stop hemming and hawing and for him to bring his A-lines. Doc's open involved esch-shoe-ing the preliminaries, an admonition to stop skirting the topic and a request for a short of something to coat his throat. I must admit I half expected the stranger to run screaming into the night with that opening round but he stayed. The word play proceeded to go downhill from there but several times during the evening I noticed he was still sitting quietly in his armchair observing and nursing his drink.
He was back the next evening, once again arriving before the festivities commenced, in this case Tall Tales Night, and stayed until just before closing. He continued to come in for the entire next week, always ordering scotch and nursing it in what he had appropriated as his armchair in the corner. He didn't visit the fireplace but I never saw him take his change from the box either.
Of course, in the tradition of Calahan's we just accepted his presence and didn't press him to interact. However I must admit I was, as were most of the other regulars, curious about who he was and where he had come from. He obviously needed to be here. There was a sad and lonely air about him as if he were mourning the loss of something or someone. He didn't speak much, just the bare minimum to order his drink and most of the time he sat with his hands steepled in front of his face in a posture that suggested introspection. Regardless of his pose though I just knew he was aware of everyone and everything that went on in the room.
After more than a week of this somewhat anti-social behavior I was completely surprised when the older gentleman approached me after Fast Eddie and I finished the second set on a Monday Fill-More night. On this particular evening he was wearing light charcoal grey dress pants and a dark purple raw silk shirt. I hadn't ever seen the man in a shirt that wasn't silk. He was carrying two beers, one of which he placed gently on the top of the piano for Eddie; the other he handed to me. He hesitated slightly then spoke.
"Would you gentlemen be amenable to a third for your next set?" he asked.
I looked at Eddie who took a swig of his provided beer. "Depends on whatcha play and how good ya are."
"Violin and well enough," was his response.
I shrugged my acceptance and took a pull on my beer. This was clearly something that he needed and I wasn't about to get in the way. No matter what his skill level I decided that it was up to Eddie and I to make him sound good. I gave a quick glance at Eddie and he got the message.
The still unnamed gentleman gave a small tight smile as if he'd caught the silent interplay between us then said, "If you will excuse me momentarily."
He walked back to his chair and pulled a battered looking violin case from underneath it. I was surprised since I'd seen him come in earlier and I didn't remember him carrying anything. Given the state of the case I wondered about the quality of the instrument it contained. I should not have worried because the violin he pulled out was just as much a work of art as Lady Macbeth. In fact, even without hearing it, I would have bet it had been made by one of the old masters like Stradivarius.
He rosined his bow, tucked that beauty of an instrument under his chin and ran through a couple of scales. She sounded absolutely wonderful. A couple of adjustments and he looked at me, "Mr. Stonebender," was all he said to indicate his readiness.
"Irish Rover?" I asked picking up Lady Macbeth. He nodded slightly and Eddie took off with the tune on the piano. With the first note the old man played I knew it was going to be special. The music just flowed, one tune into another. At first when one song was within several measures of ending Eddie or I or the Violinist would suggest a tune title for the next. Soon it got so that one or the other of us would merely improvise a riff from a tune as a suggestion into the song we were playing, if the other players knew if we'd answer with the same riff. That bit of nonverbal communication allowed us to segue cleanly from one piece to the next. We ranged all over the musical spectrum from folk to classical to rock. We even did a version of Dueling Banjos at one point. It quickly became one of those jam sessions where the music was all. Nothing else existed for the three of us. Eventually I came to my senses realizing I had no idea how long we'd been playing. I was just about ready to call for a break when I happened to look at our Violinist. He was staring at me with one eyebrow raised in question as he played a familiar folk riff and mouthed "last one" at me. This particular tune wouldn't require piano so I gave Eddy the sign to drop out
I let the Violinist take the lead on the segue which he did magnificently and I followed in behind with guitar. Eddie, in the meantime had closed the piano keyboard cover and was playing it softly as a drum. While the tune was perfectly acceptable as an instrumental something told me to sing.
I am stretched on your grave and will lie here forever,
If your hands were in mine I'd be sure we'd not sever,
My apple tree, by brightness, it's time we were together,
For I smell of the Earth and am worn by the weather.
By the second stanza I realized that someone was singing harmony. None of the usual suspects who would and could jump in like that were present so there was only one person it could be, the Violinist. I could tell by the way he sang and played that he too had lost someone dear to him and was struggling with how to live with the guilt of surviving.
We finished the song and there was that special silent pause between the last note and the audience reaction that I've experienced several times. It's as if the audience is so spellbound by what you have played that it takes them a moment or two to react. Into that silence I heard Tommy Janssen breath "Wow" before the bar erupted in utter pandemonium. Eddie and I were mobbed by the regulars and by the time I broke free of the crowd the Violinist had disappeared. I hoped the adulation hadn't scared him off.
He didn't show up for Punday and I worried but he was back in his usual spot on Wednesday. He looked a bit less sad and more at peace with himself than before. I kept an eye on him throughout all the tall tales and more than once caught a flash of amusement on his long face. It took me a bit before I connected it to Doc Webster's story about something that allegedly had happened to one of his ancestors in England during the reign of Queen Victoria.
After the tales had been all told and Doc Webster crowned champion again I decided it was time to approach the mysterious violin playing addition to our company. In fact I was moving in his direction when he suddenly stood and moved to the chalked line on the floor in front of the fireplace. He drained his glass, said "To the science of deduction," then with an elegant flick of his wrist sent it crashing into the fireplace.
It wasn't the strangest toast we'd collectively heard over the years but we all gave him our attention to see if he'd explain more. He continued to face the fireplace and put his hands behind his back. For some reason the pose and his long nosed profile struck a chord with me but still I couldn't place it.
"I must thank the present company," he began, "for doing something that previously had only been accomplished by certain very clever and psychotic criminals. To be specific you collectively have managed to keep my attention focused and my mind occupied for more than week."
He took a breath as if to continue but at that very moment the door opened admitting a short stocky gentleman, white hair cut military short. The violinist looked round to see who had entered and froze.
"John" the Violinist said quietly looking a bit like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He fully turned, took two steps toward the man in the doorway then stopped.
The gentleman in the doorway smiled then strode across the floor just in time to grab the Violinist as he swayed on his feet.
"John" the Violinist said again as he enfolded the shorter man in a bear hug.
The smaller man, John, hugged him back then managed to extract his arms and grab the Violinist's head pulling him down into a serious kiss.
Neither man seemed to be at all cognizant of the audience. As far as the two of them were concerned the rest of us didn't exist. We, once it was clear that the reunion was amicable, all attempted to find something interesting anywhere else in the room. Fast Eddie started playing on the piano, there was a run on the bar keeping Mike busy and a variety of conversations were commenced. I, however, was watching Doc Webster who was busy watching the couple with a very strange look on his face. I moved from where I was standing and sat down next to him.
"What's up Doc?" I asked in a low voice. He gave me a dirty look returning his gaze to the two men in the middle of the room.
The couple in question had stopped kissing and now had their heads together and were talking in low voices to each other. The conversation concluded and they started toward the door.
As they reached it Doc Webster called out to them, "Good by Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson. Safe travels."
John, who was slightly ahead, apparently didn't hear but the Violinist paused and looked back at Doc Webster. He smiled slightly and nodded in acknowledgement with a clear look of approval on his face then with a dramatic swirl of his coat he was out the door and gone. This left everyone within earshot staring at Doc Webster.
The Doc merely shrugged and commented, "When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."