The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax: New Excerpt

The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel is the 1st in the new Vinyl Detective Mystery series (Available May 10, 2016). 

He is a record collector—a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others.

Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording—on behalf of an extremely wealthy (and rather sinister) shadowy client. 

Given that he’s just about to run out of cat biscuits, this gets our hero’s full attention. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…

3

SNOWFALL

“So who is this chick, then?” said Tinkler.

“She works for the head of some big corporation. In Germany, I think.” I handed him her business card.

He sniffed it. “Hmm. N. Warren. She smells nice. What does the N stand for?”

He handed the card back to me. “Sounds like you should make it your life’s work to find this record of hers first. What was it again? Disraeli Gears?

Disraeli Gears is a classic album by Cream. My friend Tinkler was more of a rock specialist, though he did know a bit about jazz.

“No, you deaf idiot,” I said. “Easy Geary.”

“Oh yes,” Tinkler nodded, his hair swaying across his face. In the glow of the lava lamp his plump face was that of a depraved Sistine cherub. We were in the upstairs room of his narrow little Victorian house in Putney, in the spare anyway, though, isn’t it? I mean, if this record is as rare as you say it is, you’re never going to find a copy.”

I thought carefully for a moment about how much I should tell him. But Tinkler’s my friend and I knew I could trust him. “They’ve got some information,” I said.

He paused in the process of licking the cigarette papers. “What sort of information?”

“They have reason to believe someone has recently got rid of a copy. Put it on the second-hand market.”

“Where?”

“Somewhere in London.”

“Oh well, best of British luck.”

“Somewhere in south London.”

“Like I say, best of luck.”

“Southwest London.”

He paused in assembling the joint and scrutinised me.

“You know, that might actually be doable.” He grinned. “Have you heard this record?”

“Never on vinyl. Just CDs. And never the whole thing. The CD reissues always omit one track.”

“That’s kind of mysterious. Not to mention annoying. Why do they do that? Copyright problems?”

“No, the master tape is missing.”

“That’s a major bummer. What was the track?”

“A vocal number. Just for this one track Geary was joined by a singer called Rita Mae Pollini.”

“Rita Mae who?”

“Pollini. For my money the greatest jazz singer who ever lived.”

“Never heard of her.”

I shrugged. “A lot of people have never heard of June Christy or Betty Carter or Lucy Ann Polk.”

“I’ve got some Betty Carter here, somewhere,” said Tinkler. He rose from the sofa and went over and checked the amp, which was warming up. Tinkler’s hi-fi system consisted of a vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable, some mammoth Tannoy horn-loaded speakers, only slightly smaller than prehistoric elephants, installed on either side of the chimney breast, and an amplifier using valves from obsolete television cameras that looked like the control panel of a flying saucer in a 1953 movie.

It all sounded pretty good, though.

While he was checking the bias and DC offset on each output valve—a finicky business but necessary if he didn’t want his speakers bursting into flame—I went over and looked at the fitted shelves that filled an entire wall except for a narrow strip where the Valerian picture hung.

The shelves were mostly crammed with records, of course, but there was also a narrow section devoted to books about music. I reached up and took down Wilson’s Singers of America. I’d sat back down and found the page I was looking for before Tinkler finished fiddling with the valves.

When he finally concluded his task he came over and frowned at the book. “What’s that?”

I showed him the picture I’d found of Rita Mae Pollini. Taken in 1958 it showed a stunning beauty with dark hair and wide dark eyes. It was hard to tell in the black and white photo, but her skin seemed to be a beguiling olive shade. A Mediterranean beauty who might have gazed out of a Renaissance painting.

Tinkler stared at the book. “Good Christ, my underpants are exploding. Why have I never heard of this woman?”

“Well, she only recorded a handful of albums before vanishing into obscurity. It seems she married a dentist, did her last—and best—recordings, and then retired to raise a kid.”

“Yes, that will do it every time. Particularly marrying a dentist.” He offered me the joint.

“No thanks. I’ve got an early start tomorrow.” Coffee was the only drug I really approved of.

“Yes, the first day of your quest.” He parked the joint in a blue crystal ashtray on the coffee table. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Where are you going?”

To get some provisions from the kitchen.” He went out the door.

I called after him. “Got the munchies already?” There was no reply, just the familiar sound of Tinkler falling down the stairs.

I went out to take a look. “Are you all right?” I stood at the banister, peering down. His pale face smiled tentatively up at me from the shadows below.

“Fine. Just took a little spill. One of the stair rod screws is a bit loose.”

“One of your screws is a bit loose,” I said.

He came back a few minutes later with a big white ceramic bowl full of Kettle Chips and placed it on the coffee table. While I helped myself, he went over and rummaged through his records. “You know what I found the other day, at a record fair? A copy of Beggars’ Banquet. Red label. Original unboxed Decca mono.”

“Nice,” I said. Although I primarily listened to jazz, I shared Tinkler’s fondness for the Rolling Stones.

“Yes, and it was in great nick. Near mint. I paid for it with trembling hands, got it home and went to put it on the shelf, and you know what?”

“You found you already had a near-mint mono Decca copy of it with unboxed red labels?”

“I already had five of them,” said Tinkler.

 

Copyright © 2016 Andrew Cartmel.

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Andrew Cartmel is a novelist and screenwriter. His work for television includes Midsomer Murders and Torchwood, and a legendary stint as Script Editor on Doctor Who. He has also written plays for the London Fringe, toured as a stand-up comedian, and is currently co-writing with Ben Aaronovitch a series of comics based on the bestselling Rivers of London books. He lives in London.

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