“Oh my God, Peter, look,” Charlotte said as she pushed the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday Times between him and the Premier League match on the television.

“Charlotte, please, they’re in stoppage time.”

“But you don’t even like soccer. Peter, here!”

Peter looked as instructed and could not find what he was supposed to see until Charlotte’s finger stabbed at the top corner. There was a quarter page advertisement announcing that the Antiques Roadshow, Charlotte’s favorite program, was coming to New York.

“It’s this Saturday, I want to bring in my great Aunt Beatrice’s baton. She said it was very valuable. That it belonged to a famous conductor. This is my chance to find out exactly what it is. Maybe it’s worth enough that I can sell it to pay for my dream wedding.”

Peter looked at the date and time of the show, then forced a smile knowing he had no choice but to accompany Charlotte, even though he and his buddy Fred had tickets to the Rangers and Bruins matinee for the same day.

*******

Cameron Adams director of the GoldnerAuditorium had just learned that the re-wiring of the building was not going to be done in time for their grand re-opening and hosting of the Antiques Roadshow.

“Sorry,” the master electrician said without a hint of apology, “it’s a union thing.”

“So there’s nothing my attorneys can do to speed up the work?”

The electrician just laughed and walked away leaving Cameron stammering as he searched for something to say.

His only recourse was to send his staff out to purchase every extension cord and power strip they could find. By the time the Roadshow trucks turned from Broadway onto West 80thStreet on Friday afternoon, the floor of the auditorium was a hodgepodge of cords hidden under rugs, tables and miles of duct tape.

“You are going to blow this place up,” Cameron’s assistant said as she saw the equipment that was coming off the trucks.

“They have their own generator. We will be able to get through this with only hitting the breakers a couple times,” he replied in hope that his lie would be supported by a power higher than the meager 200-amp breaker box in the basement.

*******

The big day arrived as Peter and Charlotte took their place in line waiting for the doors to open. Once inside Charlotte couldn’t contain herself.

“I’ve dreamt of being here and now it has come true. Here’s a map of the tables, help me find the table for musical instruments and accessories.”

Peter quickly located the table in hopes that maybe they could finish the appraisal, he could console Charlotte that her heirloom was a piece of junk, and he could get on the train to Madison Square Garden to meet Fred for the start of the second period.

Charlotte grew more anxious as they got closer to the front, repeatedly asking Peter what the immaculately dressed and groomed older woman was saying as she told the owners all about the history of their valuables.

This lady is dressed for a dinner party on Beacon Hill, not this PBS garage sale, Peter thought as he wished she’d hurry up and get to Charlotte.

They finally reached the front.

“Mrs. Van Ardsdale,” the appraiser said as she offered her hand to Charlotte.

“I’m Charlotte and this is my fiancé, Peter,” she said with a flutter of nerves.

“Hello,” Peter said stealing a glance at his watch.

Charlotte retrieved the baton from her purse and handed the inlaid case across the table. Mrs. Van Ardsdale placed the case on a velvet stand and flipped the latch.

She immediately put her hand to her mouth and let out a gasp. She closed the case and rubbed her hand over the inlay.

Grabbing her producer by the shirt and pulling him close, she managed a low whisper.

“Get the camera crew over here right away. I want the special reveal set-up. A camera on the object, one for me and one for the client. Get Harry Truscotte over here right away so I can confer with him. Then get me a chair before I faint. Hurry!”

*******

Cameron paced the floor of the auditorium waiting for something to go wrong as the knot in his stomach grew along with the crowds. Every flash from a camera gave him visions of the breaker box in the basement exploding into a shower of sparks and dozens of gray haired old ladies trapped in the ensuing fire, as the police cuffed him and took him to prison for the rest of his life.

“Do something, just don’t stand there,” he yelled at a janitor who was leaning on a mop.

As Charlotte was filling out her paperwork in line, the janitor pushed the bucket to a utility room behind the musical instrument table and emptied it in the sink. He turned the spigot all the way left and then all the way right, without getting any water. He finally gave up and went back to the basement before Cameron could yell at him again

*****

The producer ran as instructed across the auditorium. Mrs. Van Ardsdale held onto the table to maintain her balance as the chair she ordered arrives just as the strength in her legs failed and she fell into the seat.

“What’s going on? What is it?” Charlotte pleaded as she grabbed Peter’s arm.

Mrs. Van Ardsdale reached into her briefcase and pulled out three pairs of gloves.

“Here, put these on, they are to protect this piece of art, they are silk on the outside and a special silicone lined plastic on the inside.”

“Piece of art?” Charlotte repeated as she and Peter donned the gloves.

Harry arrived and immediately huddled with Mrs. Van Ardsdale to review the baton. Harry shrieked when the case was opened, then cleared his throat to hide his embarrassment. He put his hand to his chest and grabbed the edge of the table. They whispered in conference as Charlotte leaned in trying to hear what they were saying.

The noise of the commotion of the growing crowd drowned out the rumble of the pipes in the utility room as the water finally reached the faucet and rapidly started to fill the sink, spilling out over the edge as a make-up manworked on Charlotte and then Peter. As the last camera was set up a small river from the utility sink was inches from the musical instrument appraisal table.

The producer made sure everything was in place and counted Mrs. Van Ardsdale down to the red light.

“Please tell me what you know about what you brought us here today at the Roadshow.”

Charlotte repeated her story about the baton, trying to sound dramatic with a few embellishments about her great aunt.

“Well, that is quite an understatement,” Mrs. Van Ardsdale said in her best Boston Brahmin haughtiness.

“This is probably the most valuable piece ever brought into the Roadshow. What you have here is the hand carved baton that Italian artist Giuseppe Savona created for Giacomo Puccini for the premier of his opera La Bohemein 1896. Savona carved the baton from a piece of ivory taken from an elephant that was shot by King Umberto the First while hunting in Tanzania with President Teddy Roosevelt. Legend has it that Puccini was having a torrid love affair with Elisabetta Orsini, his legendary soprano and gave her the baton after the premier. She eventually left Puccini for another man and the baton was supposedly lost when Orsini’s belongings disappeared on April 15th, 1912. Does that date ring a bell?”

Charlotte shook her head as she tried to hold her smile and not scream for joy as she envisioned her wedding reception at the Waldorf-Astoria.

“That is the day the Titanic sunk, she was a passenger and she got into the lifeboat with only the clothes on her back. All thought the baton was lost. That is until you brought it in here to us today. I can’t put a value on this, it is priceless. I could see at an international auction the value reaching forty to fifty million or higher.”

Charlotte reflexively picked up the baton from the stand as the word million echoed through the auditorium. She wobbled for a second and then fainted, throwing the baton in the air. Peter let her fall to the ground as he dove to catch the baton. He landed in a torrent of water from the utility sink just as it reached a tangle of extension cords sending out a shower of sparks. A huge jolt of electricity ran through Peter, melting the silicone glove and fusing, skin, glove and priceless baton in his right hand. The glove smoldered in a puff of smoke for a second until the surge finally flipped the breaker and the auditorium was plunged into darkness.

Within seconds the power was restored revealing Peter’s smoking hand and producers running to get smelling salts for Charlotte and Mrs. Van Ardsdale.

“Is the baton okay?” Mrs. Van Ardsdale screamed as she came to.

“It is and I’m fine too by the way,” Peter said as he held out his hand for inspection.

“Call an ambulance,” a producer screamed.

“And a conservator from the Metropolitan Museum,” Mrs. Van Ardsdale added.

“I’m fine,” Peter reassured Charlotte, who was now cradling his hand to her chest. She reached out a tentative finger to touch the baton which caused Peter to flinch. He pulled his hand back and as he raised it Mrs. Van Ardsdale began a note, a perfect middle C. Startled, he quickly turned his hand towards Charlotte and she began a note an octave above Mrs. Van Ardsdale in perfect harmony. The beauty of the notes quieted the clamor in the crowd.

Cameron Adams arrived to find the source of the disturbance and as soon as he saw the baton in Peter’s raised hand a rich baritone middle C sprang from his pursed lips.

All three were singing as if they were in a trance, not knowing that they were channeling voices from somewhere beyond the remodeled Goldner Auditorium.

The ambulance crew’s crashing through the main entrance prompted Peter to turn slightly and lower his hand resulting in three more people singing and a lowering of an octave.

Peter realized his movements might have something to do with the singing. He deliberately moved his hand in random, up and down motions with the resulting notes following his movements. More people began to stare at Peter’s hand and as they locked eyes on the baton they joined in.

He hid his hand behind his back and all of the people stopped as soon as the baton was out of view. They stood dazed as the spell of Puccini wore off.

“What just happened?” Charlotte whispered in his ear, her voice cracking from the strain of singing.

“I don’t know but I’m about to freak out. My hand is glued to this baton and I think it’s possessed.”

“The baton is miraculous and I must have it,” Harry Truscotte screamed as he jumped over the table, tackling Peter to the floor.

The two wrestled back and forth until Peter got away and began to run. Truscotte grabbed his ankle causing Peter to lose his balance and fall. Without thinking he extended his stricken hand to cushion the fall. The tip of the baton struck first, breaking it in two.

The crowd gasped. Charlotte and Mrs. Van Ardsdale fainted again.

Peter moved his hand frantically in front of the assembled crowd that remained hushed and toneless.

Truscotte picked up the broken end and waved it desperately with the same result, stony silence.

An angry crowd surrounded Truscotte, pummeling him into a whimpering heap with shopping bags full of bric-a-brac that had officially been declared worthless by the Roadshowexperts.

Charlotte grabbed the broken end of the baton and stuffed it in her purse.

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyers,” she screamed as the EMT loaded Peter on a stretcher.

******

Cameron sat alone in his office with his head in his hands, listening to the voicemails ping into his phone, each one he knew had more bad news than the previous message. Before the last piece of equipment was loaded on the last truck he had been surrounded by an army of lawyers, even the ones he had threatened to turn loose on the union man, all of them demanding reparations or statements about the day’s debacle.

He turned off the new message alerts and grabbed his coat, heading out in the upper westside night, heading towards the park.

“Maybe I’ll get lucky and get mugged” he said to no one in particular.

******

Peter’s hand eventually healed but it never felt the same. To him it was as if it was a prosthetic, not his own, just an ordinary hand, He found himself hanging out in front of Carnegie Hall and Opera houses in the city, hoping something in the air, an errant note of Mozart, a maestro humming a tune, anything, would restore the magic to his hand.

He lost interest in the Rangers, English soccer and eventually Charlotte. He heard that she got her dream wedding at St. Patrick’s with the reception at the Waldorf. She even invited Peter and a plus one. Peter never thought about going and didn’t realize he was missing the nuptials when he was able to get scalped tickets to La Bohemeat Lincoln Center the day of the wedding. It was the B cast, but it was still the Met.

The back-up soprano, a budding young talent named Audrey Ruston, was somewhat of a disappointment to the artistic staff of the Metropolitan Opera because she had not realized her full potential. As she began Musetta’s Waltz, Peter felt a tingle in his index finger. He looked down and saw it was moving by itself to the music. He raised his hand the movements began to mirror the conductor. He locked eyes with the young soprano as her singing changed, becoming more hypnotic. The audience unconsciously leaned forward in their seats to be closer to the exquisiteness of her voice.

She saw Peter through the haze of the lights, moving his hand gracefully to the rhythm of Puccini. Spellbound, she began to follow Peter’s lead. The conductor heard the change in her singing and saw she was looking into the audience and not at him. He turned quickly and saw Peter guiding her. It was him that was taking her to this miraculous, celestial level. He was conducting the other performers, but he knew for her, he was just a prop, like the backdrops and costumes.

Peter felt what he had back in the auditorium. The music flowed through him, across the rows, to the stage. He was the only one that did not stand and clap in the roaring ovation at the conclusion of the performance. His hand was extraordinary once again. Instead he sat, smiling, flexing his tired fingers.

Peter waited at the stage entrance until Audrey came out. She still glowed in the passion of the crowd’s adoration for her performance. She ran to him and hugged him.

“It was you,” he said into her ear.

“No, it was you, how did you do that? I mean, once I saw your lead it was if I was transformed, I found a range in my voice I didn’t know I had. It was magic.”

“Yes,” Peter smiled. “Magic.”

THE END

*****

Check out more of Tom Cosentino’s short stories:

All That Once Was Good

To Live Afresh

The November Guest

Return To Prague

The Regulars

No Greater Love

Restoration

*****

Photo by skeeze (Pixabay)