"So I can't have a refund?" Jasmine slapped down the stack of papers on the cheap wooden desk. It hit the wood harder than she had intended, making a loud smack that resonated off the peeling walls of the run-down pawn shop.
"Sorry girlie, but we don't do refunds. It cost me money to hire the instrument expert who helped me do the appraisal. I can't get a refund on that money, so I can't refund yours."
Jasmine looked down at the papers in despair, the start of tears beginning to form in her silver eyes. "Not to be rude, but I spend three months' worth of my paycheck to get my saxophone appraised. This is really all you can tell me? I still have so many questions. For instance, in the research papers you gave me, you never said anything about what this symbol is." Jasmine pointed out the symbol carved a few inches below the bell. It was longer than it was high, with two curved prongs sticking off the side, the bottom prong longer and thinner than the top prong, and a flame-like three-pronged tip on the top. The side prongs tapered in to a point in the bottom of the center.
"Yeah, I did," the shopkeeper replied, flipping through the papers until he stopped and pointed out a section. "I've seen it before on a couple of things. It has to do with the Choctaw tribe, who lived in this area hundreds of years ago."
"But that was the only information in there about the symbol. Don't you know the meaning of it?"
"Nope. I don't even know what it's called," the shopkeeper admitted.
Jasmine sighed. The most important question she had about the saxophone had gone unanswered.
"The good news is that your saxophone is a real treasure; I don't run into stuff like this too often. It's an antique, probably from the Civil War era, but it's still in perfect working condition. Heck, those jewels embedded in the key guards are genuine rubies! I'd bet you could get anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand bucks for it. I'll give you five thousand for it right now, and I'll pay you in increments each month."
"Sorry, but it's still not for sale," Jasmine insisted, clutching the dark bronze-gray saxophone to her chest. She had to admit she was a bit tempted to sell it when the shopkeeper had told her its value, but even though she could really use the money, the saxophone was too important for her to sell. It was left with me when I was found at the orphanage's doorstep as a baby. There must have been a reason for that; it's got to be the key to finding out more about myself and my past.
"Pity. That saxophone's a beauty, just like its owner," the shopkeeper remarked as Jasmine took her saxophone and left through the bulletproof glass door, which chimed as it closed behind her. She looked over her saxophone. The pawn shop hadn't been able to determine what type of metal her saxophone was made of, only that it wasn't the typical brass that saxophones usually were constructed from. A few places along the U-bend had a jewel placed in the center of the key guards. Subtle patterns were carved along the edges of the bell and the bow. She traced her hand over the large symbol carved on the part of the tube below the bell. Maybe someday I'll find out what this means.
Moments later, she heard a shot come from the shop next door, followed by a scream. She looked around the small cluttered street; there was no one else around. Against her better judgment, Jasmine raced over to the open door and fearfully glanced inside.
"Is everything okay? Do you need me to call for help?" she shouted from the doorway.
"Oh, did I startle you? Sorry. I was just testing something." An old man emerged from the back of the shop. Jasmine looked over him; other than his stained off-white lab coat there wasn't a scratch on him. What had happened just a few seconds ago?
"What on earth were you testing in there?" Jasmine's pearly gray eyes widened. "It sounded like you were hurt!"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that; it's top secret," Soon after he spoke, his gaze focused on Jasmine's saxophone. "What a unique saxophone! Seeing as you're a fellow musician, I take back what I said. I'd be more than willing to show you my work."
Jasmine glanced around as the man led her farther back into the room. She flinched as something made a crackling sound underneath the sole of one of her purple cowboy boots. The room was filled with a myriad of objects, and many were scattered across the floor, making it hard for her to walk through. The man seemed to be able to get around without much of a problem, though. He led her to a cleared-out corner, where there was a large rectangular box on wheels. It came up to Jasmine's chest and it was about half as wide as its height. Parts of instruments were thrown haphazardly together on its surface. On the front was an accordion with pipes attached to each side of it. A trombone stuck out of the center with one trumpet to the left and one to the right, and a cymbal with a two pipes coming out of the top and bottom was attached above it. A bass drum stuck out of the side opposite of the handle, with the foot pedal attached to the back side of the box. At hand level was a row of piano keys with organ pipes sticking out above and little bells dangling from a metal triangle hanging above. Perhaps the strangest thing about it was a large glass jewel on the top of the box, placed in a metal holder.
"What is it? Is it supposed to be some kind of instrument?"
"Exactly!" The man beamed. "I've been working for years to build what I call the Sound Prism. It works by combining many different sounds together. Do you know how color works?"
Jasmine tried to recall the things she had learned years ago in her high school art class. Art hadn't been her thing then, and she knew even less about it now. "Sort of. What do you mean?"
"Theoretically, if you combined every color in the universe together, you would get white, since white is the combination of all colors. It may sound crazy-personally I'd think that would give you a neutral gray-but that's what people say. I want to apply that theory to sound. If I combined every sound, or at least all the sounds that I could get my hands on, I could create the most pure-sounding instrument in the world."
"I guess that makes sense," Jasmine admitted. "But how are you going to do that? There are infinite sounds in the world."
"There may be infinite sounds, but that's not going to stop me from trying! I'll get as many as I can. That's also where you come in, my dear," the man started digging through a pile of items. After a while, he pulled out a rectangular device, about the size of a scientific calculator, made from red plastic. "This is called an Audiex. You can use it to record sounds, and to play them back. By adjusting these dials, you can adjust the volume and how far away the sound seems to be coming from."
"C'est très bizarre,"Jasmine muttered as she inspected the Audiex. It had many buttons, including one large button and two knobs on the side.
"C'est très bizarre? It's nice to hear young people in this city still speak some French. I swear-"
"Sometimes it just slips out," Though Jasmine hated to interrupt, she didn't want him to go off on a tangent she'd heard repeated at the orphanage time and time again. She was too late; he continued speaking.
"Autrefois, you could walk down the streets of New Orleans and you'd hear almost as much French as you'd hear English. It was even mandatory in school. Nowadays, I don't think kids even know what "autrefois" means."
"So what button does what?" Jasmine blurted, trying to prevent him from continuing his rant.
"The smaller buttons play sounds; any sound you collect automatically gets assigned to one of these buttons. There are lots of categories for sounds, everything from animal sounds to mechanical sounds to musical instruments and more. They're labeled, but you have to look closely to see it. You'll memorize which buttons are which by using them. Just point the Audiex at what you want it to record and press that big button. You play something short on your saxophone and I'll give you a demo."
"Okay," Jasmine put the reed of her saxophone to her lips. The man walked to the other side of the room and pointed the Audiex at Jasmine's saxophone as she played an eight-note scale. "Does that work?"
The man pressed a button on the Audiex. The eight-note scale came out.
"Even though I was far away, the noise recorded in perfect quality," The man handed Jasmine her Audiex. "I designed these Audiexes so that they can get the purest recordings possible. As long as you have the Audiex pointed at your target, you can record from up to 100 feet away and it will automatically tune out any other noises, no matter how loud or disruptive they are. Now that you know this, you can go out and help me find more sounds."
"I will. Thank you, Mr…Mr…"
"I prefer 'Monsieur'. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you my name. I'm known as many things, but most people call me M. Solfège."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Jasmine Saxe."
"Before you go, I have one more thing to say. Don't tell anyone about the Audiex or where you got it. If anyone asks about it, say it's one of those fancy new cellphones with the touch screens and the 'apps'."
"Why?" Jasmine asked, feeling slightly disappointed. She had wanted to show it to her musician friends back at the orphanage.
"I don't like being pestered into giving Audiexes away. If a good candidate for an Audiex comes around, I'll know them when I see them."
Jasmine thanked M. Solfège and headed out. She smiled as the mild February breeze tossed her dark blonde hair, sending the waist-length curls fluttering around her saxophone. The weather was much warmer than typical February fare in New Orleans, around 75 degrees even with the light sea breeze. It's much easier to get over disappointment when the weather feels almost ten degrees warmer than normal. Maybe I'll go out tonight.
"No! Why do you always insist on going out at night?"
Jasmine was in her quarters at the orphanage, along with her close friend Ana. It was a small though cozy room, outfitted with a sky blue and lavender bed, a light brown wooden nightstand with drawers, and a matching wooden desk with a chair. Lacy white curtains hung over the windows in the back of the room, and matching pillows were placed on the bed and chair. A clay vase of fragrant pale yellow and white flowers sat on her desk. For as long as she could remember, this room had been hers. Hopefully she would move out someday, either to an apartment or a college dormitory, depending on her plans and her funds. After Hurricane Katrina, the orphanage had been filled to the brim; they weren't accepting any new orphans and their space was stretched thin. Jasmine hoped to move out for that reason as well, though she knew the orphanage appreciated her and Ana's help looking after the young children. Maybe Ana would move out someday, too.
"I like the night, Ana. Maybe it's just me, but everything seems more magical under the light of the moon and the streetlights."
"And that's when the most criminals are out," Ana retorted. The rows of pink and yellow beads threaded through her black hair rattled against her neck as she shook her head. "I'm going to be blunt about this. I really worry about you when you're out on the streets at night by yourself. It's a miracle you haven't been assaulted."
"I know, but it's a fact of New Orleans life. Someone's always getting assaulted at night. They were before Hurricane Katrina, and they have been in the years following. If I let that bother me then I'd never go anywhere past eight-o'-clock."
"What if one of those nights it was you?" Ana protested.
"Speaking of criminals, did you hear about what happened at the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections a day or two ago?" Jasmine decided to change the topic. She picked up the glass jar labeled "Tips for college-please donate!" off her nightstand and put it beside her saxophone. "Remember how Louis Armstrong's cornet was stolen? Well, it got returned!"
Ana looked unimpressed. "Doesn't Feline Thief C Major always return the things he steals?"
"I don't think he always does. When the C went missing off the Roulade Oil building a while ago, it never got returned. I heard they gave up looking and replaced it last month."
"There wasn't any proof that was one of his thefts," Ana reasoned. "He didn't leave one of those cards at the site of the crime like he always does."
"The card probably blew away or something. If it was one of his thefts, I can see why he wouldn't return it. I imagine the C was pretty big, and it was high up, too. What I have to wonder is, how'd he even steal it in the first place?"
"Yeah. I wonder what he's trying to achieve with all these thefts, and returning the things he steals. I imagine he must have a good reason."
"I think so, too," Jasmine replied. "But that only makes me wonder what that reason is. Anyways, I'm going to head out now. See you tomorrow."
Ana sighed. Her brown eyes brimmed with concern. "Have fun. I hope you come back safely."