Jazz Professional               


The Solid Gold Saxophone

By Ron Simmonds

  When his Aunt Flo lay on her deathbed Hugh went into her room and asked her, for the hundredth time, where she’d buried the saxophone. Flo answered him with a crude V–sign. As usual, she pretended she was too weak to shove it up under his nose, and her fingers drooped down pointing at the floor. It had always been her little joke. She had her eyes closed now, but he could swear to a little grin on the cracked face. He was by no means her favourite nephew. It would be safe to say that they hated one another, ever since the day Hugh told her she was a mean old bitch. ‘I’ve got a long memory. You’ll be sorry you said that, one day,’ she had shouted after him. ‘Big deal,’ he sneered, and they had hardly spoken a civil word to one another since.

‘Same answer?’ chortled his brother Bill as he came out. There were fifteen of them altogether; nieces, nephews, kids, babies, the whole of the Dunne family. They had gathered in the little parlour while the priest went in to administer the last rites to the old lady. She’d fooled them before, many times, but this time she really was going.

Hugh was the only one there who had ever seen the gold saxophone. He had found it in one of the cupboards one day, quite by accident, you understand, snooping around their cottage while they were out shopping. Uncle Tobias had been alive then and his hobby had been collecting ancient musical instruments. He had a huge collection from all corners of the world. One of his prize possessions was a solid gold baritone saxophone which he’d found in a Thailand market. The sax had apparently been made for the king, way back when he was running his big band. When it was finished he hadn’t had the strength to lift it up so he’d had it tossed out the window in disgust. Tobias had managed to winch it up with a block and tackle and get a few honks out of it now and again, but it was sharp pitched and dreadfully out of tune. Sure looked good though.

The hobby had taken up all of his spare time, and had been a source of discontent between them, with Flo ever complaining that he’d be better employed paying more attention to her. Every time she objected he hit her, and she hit him back, and it was no surprise to anyone when he upped and left her one day.

No one saw him leave, and no one ever saw him again. Hugh inquired later on quite casually whether he’d taken his saxophone with him.

‘None of your business’ retorted Flo, sharply. Hugh reckoned as how he must have taken it with him, it being his prized possession, and all.

‘Well, as a matter of fact, he didn’t. But then again, I suppose he did take it with him, in a way,’ she remarked dryly, and that was the end of it. After ten years Flo had her old man declared legally dead, and no one thought much about him after that. Only Hugh went on pondering the way she’d said in a way for quite some time.

‘Wait until it rains and follow the flippin’ rainbow,’ said Bill, who was regarded by some as the family wag. ‘That’s the only gold you’ll get around here.’ This broke up all the rest of them, causing Hugh to stomp out shaking his head.

After Aunt Flo had finally expired the cottage was sealed off by her lawyer. Before the value of the contents could be estimated he had to have an inventory made. In actual fact Flo had left nothing to any one of them. They’d all choked her off by keeping well away during her many years of illness and the lawyer had already made it plain that any money she’d possessed was now going to charity. Still they hung around in high hopes of getting some of the loot, until it was clear that the old lady had meant what she said. She knew how to bear a grudge, all right.

Only Hugh remained unconvinced. ‘I’ve got this feeling, see?’ he told his wife Jean for the millionth time, or so it seemed to her. ‘She was a tricky old bag. Look—she never said it wasn’t buried, did she?’

Long after everyone else had gone he had a little sniff around the back garden. The place was a wilderness; no one had touched it since Uncle Tobias did his moonlight flit. It was pointless to poke about aimlessly, so Hugh drove down to London and bought himself a metal detector in an army surplus store. Before he paid for it he made sure that it would register buried gold, something that caused great delight amongst the other customers and staff in the store. ‘Going to the Klondike, are you?’ shouted someone as he lugged the ungainly thing out and dumped it into the car.

They started off that night, with Hugh walking the garden, ploughman fashion, with the detector pushed out in front of him. Jean held the torch, which petered out after a couple of hours. They continued by the flickering light of a stub of candle she found on the porch. This made it look a bit like a scene from The Bodysnatchers, and it was a good job for them that the cottage was fairly secluded. They turned up all kinds of junk: tin cans, bits of bicycles, a broken hair–dryer, something that looked like a piece of a German bomb casing, and a surprising number of broken knives and forks.

‘Jeez,’ said Hugh, wiping his brow. ‘You’d think she just threw all the garbage right into the garden.’ They went back the next night with a better torch, and again the night after that. Still they found nothing. No hint of gold. Jean was all for packing it in. She was tired and she wanted her bed.

‘It has to be somewhere, and I’m not sharing it with those other vultures,’ he snapped. ‘That sax must be worth millions.’ On an impulse he walked over to the back door and gave it a shove with his foot. To his surprise it flew open.

‘Hello! Look at this!’

‘You can’t do that,’ said Jean in alarm.

‘Just watch me,’ said Hugh. ‘I’m going to search the place from top to bottom.’

Dawn was breaking when he finally gave up and slumped in one of the deep easy chairs in the parlour. He had ripped the place apart, tapped walls, ceilings, probed every nook and cranny. All the soft furniture had been torn open, mattresses slit. Nothing.

‘They’ll think it was burglars,’ he said to Jean, who had followed him around everywhere in a blind panic. ‘Anyway: I give up. I absolutely give up. Let’s go home.’

He struggled out of the chair with difficulty, grabbing the handle of the metal detector for a boost up. In doing so he hit the switch by mistake and the detector started up with a shrill whine.

‘What’s the matter with it?’ asked Jean. Hugh felt his heart miss a beat.

‘It’s here,’ he breathed. ‘Under the floor. The crafty old bitch! She really was pointing down at the floor all the time.’

He pulled up the carpet. It was a stone floor, polished with age. A few taps confirmed that an area in the centre was hollow underneath. He turned, rushed out of the room into the small toolshed outside and came back with an armful of implements.

‘You can’t dig up the floor,’ said Jean weakly. She was now nearly paralysed with fear of getting caught in the act.

Her husband wasn’t listening any more. Hugh was deep in the throes of goldrush fever. He began attacking the floor with a hammer and chisel. The sun was well up before he had managed to hack a hole two feet square. In it he could see some rotted sacking. The hole was deep and dark, and gave off a damp musty smell.

‘It’s definitely here,’ he said, trembling with excitement. It took him another hour of chopping away with a pick–axe to lengthen the hole a couple of yards in each direction. The sacking seemed to be everywhere but he had to widen the hole a lot more before he was able to reach down and grab it. Jean brought him a drink of water from the kitchen and wiped his forehead with a wet cloth. Now even she was excited.

‘Are you ready?’ asked Hugh with a grin. He snagged one end of the sacking with the pick–axe and swept it back, just as if he were unveiling a memorial of some kind. He shone the torch into the hole.

There on the bottom of the dug–out lay the gold baritone saxophone. Lying stiffly to attention underneath it was an adult skeleton, dressed in rags. From the rib cage of the skeleton projected the handle of a long thin kitchen knife. A piece of paper was skewered on the blade of the knife.

There was a stifled scream from Jean, crowding behind him. Hugh stared at the skeleton in horror. The skull grinned back at him. There was enough detail left in the ragged clothing for him to recognise the nautical blazer his Uncle Tobias had always worn. He could even make out part of the gold anchor sewn on the pocket.

‘Pull yourself together,’ he hissed at Jean, who was well away into a fit of hysterics. He forced himself to reach down to grasp the knife. It had been driven in with such force as to be wedged immovably in the skeleton. He tried to pick up the saxophone, but it was too heavy and awkward to do so in the confined space. As he moved it the piece of paper tore from the knife and he retrieved it with difficulty.

In the excitement neither of them had heard the key turn in the front door. As Hugh began to straighten up the room suddenly filled with people. The lawyer was there with several men, including two uniformed policemen. Jean flattened herself against one of the walls, white–faced and shaking. One of the men began taking photographs, beginning with one of Hugh crouching over the hole with the knife still in his hand.

‘Incredible!’ said the lawyer, staring down into the hole. ‘Exactly the way she said it would be, almost to the last detail.’

Hugh found his voice at last. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ he croaked.

‘Well, you see: your Aunt Flo left me a very interesting letter,’ said the lawyer. ‘I was directed to open it only after her death. In the letter she confesses to killing her husband in his sleep fifteen years ago. She wanted to cleanse her soul of the dreadful sin.’

‘She—killed Uncle Tobias?’ stammered Hugh, in amazement.

‘Actually, no. She says that you did the actual killing for her. Obviously a little old lady like that wouldn’t have the strength to plunge the knife in, and then get rid of the body after. You did it because she promised to leave his valuable instrument collection to you in her will. Am I right in assuming that’s one of the instruments? Well she certainly would never have managed to lift that one all on her own.’ He rubbed his hands together. ‘Good! I dare say your fingerprints are all over the knife, not to mention the odd bits of DNA. We’ve been watching the cottage for several days now, by the way.’

One of the plainclothes men took Hugh’s arm. ‘Hugh Spencer Dunne? I’m arresting you for the murder of your uncle.’ He looked around and tipped the wink to the others. ‘There seems little doubt in my mind that...wait for it... Hugh Dunnit.’ At that, everyone in the room, except Hugh and Jean, cracked up.

‘Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!’ roared the lawyer, holding his sides.

‘Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!’ cackled the uniformed policemen, digging one another in the ribs with their truncheons.

When they finally dragged him out, with a tearful Jean following up, he realised that he was still clutching the piece of paper. He spread it out and looked at it.

It said: Sorry, I just had to tell ‘em, Hugh. Ain’t life a mean ole bitch?

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved