The music rushed in like a gunshot, loud and dissonant, rattling me awake so quickly I almost forgot where I was. I shook my head to clear away the cobwebs and soon everything came back into focus.
A makeshift detainment camp. A piano number, delivered loud and early by a special brand of madman.
A shadow peeked through the high window, lit by moon, telling me it was still dark outside. Early morning, before the roosters crow.
I recognized the tune, or thought I did. Monk? Maybe. The uneven beat, staccato notes, drunk rhythm – trademark Monk.
Lenny, lying beside me, groaned awake. He slammed his fist against the wall and barked something unintelligible. He cursed the wall for hurting his hand.
Lenny was from New Orleans. He’s the only guy in the unit who cared about jazz, or even knew anything about it. The others were split between hip-hop and hillbilly. One listened to thrash metal every day until a sniper picked him off during an otherwise routine check in town, where the locals don’t sweat the difference between occupiers and liberators.
“I used to love Monk,” Lenny said. “This cat’s making me hate him. I ever get out of here, I’ll find him and strangle him with piano wire.”
Nobody knew the piano player. We figured he took lessons as a kid, learned American jazz, then got recruited for a gig playing old standards while the interrogation crews went to work. He used an electric piano for maximum volume. The background instruments were pre-recorded. The music blared from loud speakers, right next door.
“At least he has the syncopation half-right,” Lenny said. “Nobody did that before Monk. Uneven rhythms, choppy chords.”
The syncopation was a genius touch. During the loud, fast parts you couldn’t hear the screams. When the rhythm slowed down, they came in loud and clear.