Out of Tune: Chapter Zero


Over the last few months, I lost the motivation to finish up my latest fiction novel. The first draft is done and the first third of it is pretty solid or maybe as solid as it is going to be.

In an effort to regain momentum and make it across the finish line with this story as quickly as possible, I’m going to try something new with the blog. What follows is Chapter Zero of the book, also known as a prologue. For the next few weeks, I’ll likely publish the first few chapters of the book as my blog posts.

The book is called Out of Tune, and this is

Chapter Zero

April 2000

 The spring sky was clear and blue and the temperature was perfect, one of the last low humidity days before summer smothered the Lowcountry of South Carolina for days on end. Can’t have the windows up on a day like this, Jeff Turner thought to himself.  Who would hear me sing? Jeff pressed the power window switch and smiled as the driver’s side window lowered. I love technology. He turned the radio volume to the right and sang along.

He soon slowed and turned off the main road into a driveway flanked by white brick columns with decorative lights on top.  Jeff navigated the curvy crushed shell driveway through a cluster of century-old live oaks. As he neared the house, the trees cleared, allowing the sun to appear again and making the lush, green, perfectly manicured lawn look that much brighter. Across the yard loomed a white two-story house with four columns.
Jeff noticed one car was missing from the open-air carport so he parked behind the remaining vehicle. He turned off the ignition and stepped out of the pristine gray Jeep Grand Wagoneer with wood paneling. The Jeep looked brand new, not the ten years old it actually was. A white magnetic sign on the front door read Turner’s Tuning in large black print with Piano Tuning and Repair right below it in a smaller print, his phone number below that.
Jeff walked to the rear of the Jeep, opened the tailgate, and pulled out a small tool bag. He shut the door gently and using a rag from the tool bag, wiped a bit of dirt off the rear bumper. He bounded up the stairs to the raised wrap around porch, knocked twice, and entered the home.

Melancholy notes of a piano came from the room just off the foyer. Jeff followed the music and stopped in the wide-arched doorway. “Did I accidentally come to the funeral parlor?”

The playing stopped, and the woman sitting at a white grand piano turned her head and looked at him. “Jeff, you’ve got to stop walking in like that. Tommy hates it when you do that!”

“Well, Tommy isn’t here. Is he?” Jeff asked and then laughed. “What’s with the downer “Funeral March”, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes, you have to go with what you feel. I really need to be working on something for the spring recital,” Susan Cransford said.

“Oh, yeah. That is getting close. How could I forget? Melanie can’t wait, but if I hear “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” one more time, I may not be your friend anymore!”

Susan was the one who laughed this time. “Sorry about that. That girl is something special, so don’t you discourage her! She’s the only student I’ve ever had who is going to play and sing at a recital. I can’t believe she’s only ten! I can’t wait to see where she goes in life.”

“Me, neither,” said Jeff. 

“Thanks for adjusting your schedule today,” Susan said to Jeff. “I wasn’t expecting those cancellations, but this worked out well.”

“No problem at all, Jeff said. “I suspect this is nothing more than the change of season again and this big drafty house.”

“This old house is such a pain sometimes, and Tommy likes it so cold. I have to wear this sweater inside almost all year round, thanks to him.” She paused. “Enough of my complaining.  I’ll just get out your way. Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure. Lemonade will be fine, but first I have something I want to show you. I think this would be a great tool for you to use with your students.” Jeff reached into his tool bag and pulled out a small black device.

“What’s that?” Suzanne asked.

“It’s a camera,” Jeff replied.

“I have a camera,” Susan said. “What’s so special about that?”

“Watch,” Jeff said and pressed a button. A small video screen appeared on the back of the camera, and Jeff held it up for her to see.

“What is this?” Suzanne asked

“It’s a digital camera that records video, too. Watch.” A tiny face appeared. “Hello, Mrs. Cransford,” came the voice from the camera. “I want you to watch me play my practice piece.” 

Susan looked to Jeff, and he smiled. “Keep watching.” The little girl on the screen sat down at a piano and begin to play. After a minute she stopped. “Is that good, Dad?” the little girl said.

“Yes, sweetheart,” came a voice from off-camera. “Perfect. I’ll show it to Mrs. Cransford today.” Jeff pressed a button again and the video stopped.

“Jeff, that’s amazing!”

“Yep. It’s so easy. You can record your students right here as they play and then play it back for them. Instant feedback! It’s the way of the future, I’m sure. By the way, my assistant says ‘hello’.”

“Where is she today?”

“She had more important things to do than hang out with dear old dad. Seems there’s a new kid on the block by the name of ‘Billy’.”

Susan laughed. “Yep. Looks like it’s the beginning of the end! Before you know it, there will be all kinds of boys hanging out around the house!”

“You’re killing me. Don’t even say that!” Jeff protested.

“I’ll go grab that lemonade while you get working,” Susan said and left for the kitchen.

Jeff reached back into his bag and pulled out a small tuning lever. He lifted the piano lid and put the prop in place. Next, he pressed a few keys and then reached inside the piano to turn a few pins. This tug of war of play and adjust lasted for several minutes.

Before long, Susan returned with two lemonades and handed one to Jeff.  “Thanks,” he said and took a sip. “It wasn’t bad, but I made a few tweaks. Let’s test it out, and I’ll record you this time.”

“Okay, what do you want me to do?” Susan asked.

“Go ahead and sit down. I’ll record you, and then we’ll play it back.” Susan sat down on the bench while Jeff pressed buttons on the camera and then stepped back and pointed the camera at Susan. “Alright. I can see you and the keys. Are you ready?”

Susan nodded. 

“Okay. Action!” Jeff said and Susan began to play. Jeff frowned at the slow tempo and minor key, but he kept the camera focused on her hands.  After a minute, he finally spoke up. “Okay, enough of that depressing music. Show me what you got.” Susan immediately switched gears to a fast tempo and began to play up and down the keyboard, arpeggios, chords, and scales. Her hands flew up and down and over and over each other.  After a minute of the master class in improvisation, she stopped. “She sounds pretty good. I think you got it. You’re the best.”

“No big deal,” Jeff said and paused the recording.

Susan said, “Now, I have something I want to show you.” Jeff hit the stop button on the camera set down on the piano’s music shelf. “Tommy will be home soon,” she continued, “so we don’t have much time. The camera gives me an idea.” Susan began to unbutton the blue cardigan sweater she was wearing. 

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Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk Flickr via Compfight cc

4 Replies to “Out of Tune: Chapter Zero”

  1. […] blog post is Chapter One of Out of Tune, my next fiction book. The story started last week with Chapter Zero.  If you missed it, please go back and start here.  […]

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