A man and a woman sit facing, knee to knee, in a dim lit room. Each holds a glass of Johnston’s Cranberry Splash Spritzer.

The vintage Ronco vinyl phonograph plays “What a Wonderful World” and it’s skipping on the song’s title.

The two are engrossed in conversation.

Moonlight shining through a bay window illuminates Desmond, a super-sized polydactyl Maine Coon cat, sprawled across the c.1900 Carl Bechstein grand piano.

It paws through “The Kee to Bala, 75 years of Epic Concerts in Ontario’s Cottage Country,” before stopping.

His eyes dilate at the sight of a 1948 Selmer Model 19 Balanced Action medium bore trumpet, inscribed ‘G Dunn/from Satchel Mouth Armstrong July, 7, 1962.’

Desmond’s ears perk up, his main puffed. Eyes fixated on the window, he lets out a loud yowl, emitting a strange chattering sound. His mouth slightly open, almost like he’s saying “Satchmo” over and over.

The biggest big band star to ever play Gerry Dunn’s Pavilion was Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong. His July 7, 1962 concert drew 2,100 paying customers, while a thousand more who stood outside to hear the famed trumpeter who travelled from the mouth of Mississippi to the mouth of the Moon River at Bala where his horn mysteriously went missing for decades, writes author Stephen Richards in this fictional account of that night.

A cold breeze and mist seeps through the window.

Paul Emil Breitenfeld appears seated at the kitchen counter in his familiar cross-legged style.

Standing beside him is Louis Armstrong.

Bart Neely looks over at his uncle’s apparition and the famous figure at his shoulder.

Marley Kim follows Bart’s eyes as they pan the room, unsure what Bart is fixated upon.

“Tell him,” Paul says to Louis.

Louis mumbles in a gruff voice “Find the gift” and points at the page open in front the Maine Coon cat. “Find the horn.”

“Do it,” says Paul. “It’s important — and be quick!”

The fog dissipates along with the apparitions.

Marley was talking to Bart, but was ignored till now.

“Bart! Are you listening to me?” she asks, noting his sudden concerned look. “Are you OK?”

“Umm …. Sorry? Just give me a sec,” he answers, walking over to Desmond to examine the picture of the trumpet and the inscription — before tearing the page out of the book.

“I just had a thought. I need to find a trumpet. Do you have Claire Mont-Marques number? I need to call him for some info.”

With a quizzical gaze, Marley gives him the number. Bart makes the call and arranges a meeting.

He puts on his jacket: “Sorry. See you tomorrow,” he blurts, shooting out the door with Desmond close on his heels.

“Gotta go Due North.”

The Opera House

Claire, dressed in black bow tie and Maple leaf tartan vest, leans patiently against the front door of the Opera House awaiting Bart.

“What was so urgent we had to meet at this hour?” he starts as Bart and Desmond emerge around the corner.

“I have an urgent matter and thought you would like to help me locate this,” replies Bart, showing the picture of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and the inscription.

“Sure. C’mon in and I’ll tell you what I know.

“G Dunn in the inscription is Gerry Patrick Dunn. Gerry Dunn was a pharmacist who purchased a property in 1929 at Bala Bay on Lake Muskoka. He wanted to attract small orchestras to his dance hall — “Where all of Muskoka Dances” — in the summer now that there is rail service.

“The place was always packed and in 1942 he would tear down the existing structure and build ‘Dunns Pavilion’ to attract bigger bands, like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Les Brown, Glenn Miller, Dorsey Brothers and Woody Herman.”

The stage, explains Claire, was a façade of an actual cottage. The long wooden dance floor in front stretched 100 feet. Enough for hundreds of dancers. House bands played most nights and the big bands were featured a couple other nights a week.

The summer of 1962 featured the usual number of legendary band.

“On one particular night, July 7th I believe, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars played there. More than 2,100 big band fans, dancers and the curious crammed into the pavilion, as hundreds more stood out front on the street or were parked in convertibles or moored in Bala Bay in mahogany motorboats on the Bay. There was even a seaplane.

“Gerry Dunn retired the following year at age 63 and sold the Pavilion to a guy from Orillia, who renamed it “The Kee to Bala,” since it attracted so many visitors to the area.

The new owner had a similar venue in Orillia so offering touring bands two smaller venues outside of Toronto to make the due north detour worthwhile.

“Gerry passed away in 1999.

“He had a son, Patrick Dunn, and I think he lives in Toronto now. He probably helped his dad out in the summer of that year. He might be able to provide some insight into what happened to the horn inscribed to his dad. Let’s call him tomorrow.

“Oh yeah and … Louis had a habit of playing a horn for about five years and then would give it away to someone. In this case, Gerry was the lucky recipient. Louis did return four times to this venue as a matter of fact.”

‘Where all Muskoka dances.’ That was the line Gerry Dunn liked to use when referring to his famed dance hall, which put Bala on the musical map. The large dance floor was located behind the pharmacy on the left. The main street was always lined on summer nights for decades with music fans who could hear if not see the top stars inside.

The next day

Bart and Claire call Patrick, who claims his dad didn’t have a chance to talk to Louis that hectic day and had not received the trumpet from Louis.

“Dead end?” Claire says. “Maybe not. My dad had a band called the Sandsmen and apparently they were one of the house bands back then. I remember seeing a $5 ticket in his memorabilia and he might even have been on-call as a backup player. I have his diary. Let me get back to you.”

Later that day, Sloan’s Restaurant

Claire and Bart meet up for dinner at the landmark restaurant. The outside of the building looks like a log cabin with its green awnings and homey interior.

After finishing their English-style fish and chips and sweetened tea, they order coffee and Mrs. Ortwein’s fabled blueberry pie for desert.

Claire says he has gone through his dad’s things.

“There wasn’t much there, unfortunately.”

They are overheard by one of the co-owners, Janet Pritchard Sloan, a fine pianist and choir singer.

Janet apologizes for interrupting, but says she was at Dunns Pavilion that day and oversaw a man, Tom Thompson was his name, helping Louis unload his gear from the bus.

“Traffic was backed up to the bridge, so they had to unload the gear onto a luggage cart and haul it into the Pavilion. Tom tripped and a small case went over the guardrail and into the rapids. When he finished loading up the cart he hightailed it out of there and no one saw hide nor hair of him since.”

Janet adds: “I remember one other thing from that night. Louis was singing, can’t remember which tune, but during an instrumental break he stepped off the stage in front of a lovely little girl in a pretty dress and asked ‘May I have this dance with you?’

“He was always the gentleman. So kind and generous with an infectious smile. I will never forget that day.”

Claire and Bart look at each other, thank Janet profusely for her help, settle the bill, leave a generous tip and head out.

The next morning, Saturday, Bala Falls

Claire, Bart and Desmond make their way to the Bala Falls in a 1976 Pinto Runabout, Olympic Edition, white with red trim. Only to discover the area is cordoned off in preparation of a hydro-electric project.

The old Dunns Pavilion was sold recently to be demolished to make way for Bala Hydro’s admin centre.

“So much for the Kee to Bala,” laments Bart.

The pair duck under the barrier and climb down the rocky waterfall, in hopes of finding a clue to the whereabouts of the trumpet case. They toss some wood into the water and watch where it floats downstream.

A local resident, Ms. Catalina Herrera, calls down from the bridge.

“Be careful. It’s dangerous down there. What are you doing?”

“We’re on a mission to locate a lost musical instrument. A trumpet, in fact. Lost back on July 7, 1962. Yeah, I know, that was a long time ago. Sure it’s a long shot, but it’s important. It used to belong to Louis Armstrong. But we want to return it to the Dunn family it was gifted to.”

Catalina: “I will never forget that day, when Louis stepped off the stage and asked me if I would dance with him. I wish you the best of luck finding it.”

Claire, Bart and Desmond continue downstream to second waterfall. And an ancient cedar bridge across the Moon River.

Desmond hisses sensing a presence.

Bart looks up at the tree trunk to see Paul and Louis sitting in the middle, feet dangling above the water, peering into a hole in the near-side of the log made by woodpeckers a long time ago. The hole is surprisingly dry and protected from weather. Its contents unseen from the shore.

Paul: “What are you waiting for? Come take a look.”

Louis, sporting his trademark smile, begins singing.

“Nobody knows the trouble I seen ….”

Bart says “Go get it, Desmond.”

Desmond takes off like a shot — well at least as fast as a 40-pound polydactyl Main Coon cat can go.

Up, up and across he goes, stopping in front of the apparitions.

Paul and Louis point into the hole.

Desmond nods his head and reaches into the opening. extracting a case. Salutes and returns to Bart, placing the case at his feet.

Bart opens the case, examines the inscription on the trumpet, smiles and hands it to Claire.

Claire opens the case compartment, pulls out a mouthpiece, places it in the horn and plays his best renditions of “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “Laughin’ Louis”, “When you’re smiling” and “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” and “The Saints.”

Case closed, reverently he puts the instrument back in its case, to the sound of applause.

He looks up and sees his dad, sitting in a tree clapping: “Nice job, son.”

Bart looks at Claire and up at the tree with a knowing smile: “Let’s get this beautiful instrument to Patrick Dunn, its rightful owner.”

Turning to Claire, Bart continues: “Now if only we can save Dunns Pavilion.”

Bart looks up to see Gerry Dunn and Uncle Paul giving him the two thumbs up.

Stephen Richards is a Muskoka musician and writer dogged by the tails of ‘Due South’ TV detective Mountie Benton Fraser. This is the second in his series of musical mysteries. See his first one here: SAX IN THE CITY: ‘DUE NORTH …’ CRIMINAL TAKE ON AN AXE LOST & FOUND IN MUSKOKA