“blind pierre usta play down the gypsy cafe on reggio street,” says carl. “i seen him ever saturday night we usta go in there, have a spaghetti dinner with garlic bread and red wine, blind pierre was playing. some fiddle player, blind pierre. them strings, they’d practically light up like stars the way he played, sometimes to make you cry like a babe in your mama’s arms, sometimes fast as a bordello handshake, like the cops was after him and he had to finish before they bust in and drug him off to the slam.”

“their sauce wasn’t so hot,” big tony says, “watery, ya know? but the garlic bread? make yer mouth water, make yer hips do a jig.”

“what about blind pierre?” i says. “i remember him. I seen him play downtown once–”

“nah,” big tony says, “wasn’t him. he never went downtown.”

“nah,” carl agrees. “never. not blind pierre. strictly a morgan streeter, blind pierre. musta been somebody else.”

“i’m telling you, i saw him. he was playing jazz with a combo down the old blue moon club. amazing stuff, i wouldn’t have believed it if i hadn’t heard him myself. what about him?”

“oh, he’s dead,” carl says around the walnut he’s cracking between his teeth.

“dead? when?”

“yesterday, yesterday night, whenever.”

seems carl was passing by blind pierre’s place on jimson drive just off morgan when he sees all these crowds of people milling around on the sidewalk and they all had these black armbands on, so he goes over to see what’s up, he don’t think right at first it’s got anything to do with blind pierre, he’s just curious. you know. but it’s got to do with blind pierre alright. it’s his funeral.

“son-of-a-bitch,” carl says, and goes in to pay his respects. people are all over the place, carl don’t recognize half of em. must be customers, he thinks, people who liked to hear him play, because blind pierre kept mostly to himself, didn’t get out much, never mixed with the customers. he wouldn’t even take requests, in fact it insulted him if people asked him to play something. sometimes he even walked out and wouldn’t play no more that night because people kept telling him what to play. “i ain’t no 2-bit carnie,” he usta say, “i’m an artist and i decide what i play. i must feel it, in the souls of my feet, in my bones, in my heart“–thumping his chest–“or it will not come out here“–tapping his fiddle.

this fiddle, it was an old thing and grimy as a night in the bowery. carl told blind pierre one time he knew someplace blind pierre could have his fiddle cleaned up, do a nice job there, but you woulda thought carl had said to burn it the way blind pierre took on, clutching the fiddle to his chest, his eyes all bugging out. blind pierre wasn’t always a whole lot cleaner than that fiddle with his greasy hair and clothes what didn’t see a washing machine but once a month or so, so maybe he had a thing against it, cleaning stuff. maybe he thought the dirt was what held that old wood together and if it got cleaned out, it would fall apart like a rickety old chair when you take the pin out. maybe, but carl always thought it was funny how scared blind pierre was.

carl seen blind pierre’s old wife, elmarie, sitting by herself in a side room looking at a sheet of paper and because he’d knowed her since he was a pup, carl felt ok about going on inside to say hello and i’m sorry about your old man. elmarie didn’t look all that sad, she mumbled something about how everybody knew it was coming what with blind pierre being so sick and all which surprised carl because he didn’t know it and he didn’t think anybody else knew it and he’d seen blind pierre playing “devil’s hayride” the saturday before, and playing it so hard he damn near took down a rack of glasses with his bow. “he sure didn’t play like no sick guy,” carl says, and then elmarie up and hands him the sheet of paper, she don’t say nothing, just hands it to him and he reads it.

“was the damndest thing,” carl says. “i didn’t know if old blind pierre had gone off his rocker or what.” he reads it and what’s on the paper is blind pierre’s confession that he stole the fiddle fifty years ago off a museum warehouse where he usta work, and it’s some famous fiddlemaker made it and it’s worth a fortune, blind pierre wrote, and now he wants somebody to return it back to the museum after he’s gone.

“will you do it?” elmarie says, and before carl can open his mouth she’s handing him that dirty old thing wrapped up in newspaper. “he never had a case,” she says, “just carried it around with him.” and all of a sudden there he was, walking down the street with a job he never wanted, carrying a fiddle he wouldn’t have touched with his bare hand ten minutes ago, not if somebody had bet him a sawbuck.

the guy at the museum didn’t believe him, carl could see that, he was just humoring him until the guards came to throw him out, when carl told him about the fiddle. “it’s supposed to be a stratimalarias, somethin like that,” carl says, feeling like an idiot. “he says he stole it.”

“and when did he say he did this?” the guy asks, and he’s all but yawning he’s so bored.

but then carl says, “fifty years ago april,” and the guy perks right up. he unwraps the fiddle real careful and looks at it real close, then he gets a magnifying glass out of a drawer and looks even closer and when his head comes up his eyes are as wide as the hole in pinky waterman’s front wall that time he set off a blasting cap just to see what would happen. the guy says, “you say the man that gave you this is dead?” so carl shows him the confession. “i’ll be damned,” the guy says. “i’ll be damned.” then he runs out with the fiddle kind of cradled in his arm.

carl don’t know what to do, should he stay, should he go, and while he’s still trying to decide the guy comes back with a small army of other guys in white coats or three-button suits and boy, have they got questions. none of which carl can answer, none of which anybody can answer cept blind pierre and he’s dead.

“turns out,” carl says, “that ratty old fart was sawing away for fifty years on a famous fiddle made by a famous guy that’s worth almost a quarter-mil cold cash on the hoof.”

big tony whistled. “jesus, that’s some gold hoof. elmarie gets all that?” and his eyes went all shiny thinking about the side of beef she could buy off him and the freezer to put it in.

“nah,” carls says like big tony don’t know nothing, which he don’t. everything about big tony’s big except his brain. “she don’t get nothing being as how blind pierre stole the thing. that’s against the law, that is.”

“oh yeah,” big tony says. “i forgot.” which ain’t hard to believe if you know big tony.

and they went on to other things like crimes and horseracing but i couldn’t help thinking about this man who loved the violin so much he stole a stradivarius, not to sell it but just to have it to play, and i got a whole new appreciation for blind pierre, though it was a little late.

snake marchand