Monday, March 02, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 48

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Fictitia has managed to escape from her captors. Kerr is trying to figure out how the Knight's Tour applies to the quest for a solution. Dylan is abducted by a strange old woman outside Lincoln Center. Kerr has bad feelings about Tr'iTone once he explains the map. With Lionel's help, Tr'iTone discovers the apparent goal he's been looking for is at the Festspielhaus.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 48

"He's left me alone in here!" Kerr thought. "I'm going to die!!"

Wasn't this an affront to a gentlemanly agreement? Not that Dr. Kerr would ever have confused Tr'iTone with a gentleman...

Feeling triumphant after Kerr told him that the statue was a map, Tr'iTone strapped Kerr back into the chair.

"Wait, you're going to let me go, now, right?" Dr. Kerr asked as he resumed fussing against his restraints. "I gave you the solution. Maybe you might need some more help?"

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you, professor. The music's getting too loud. Let me go sort this out, first."

Tr'iTone smiled as he grabbed the statue.

"Thanks, dude – enjoy the concert!"

He shut down the air circulation fan, then flipped off the light, an evil grin dancing across his lips.

With a flash of superiority like a winner strutting at the Oscars, Tr'iTone glanced back before yanking the door tight. He tilted his head but his laughter died in the stagnant air. Once he replaced the cover over the practice room's lone small window, Kerr was again left in total darkness.

"No, you can't," he shouted, "you're not playing by the rules of..." but then he stopped. "What's the use...?"

Kerr felt anger, then disappointment, then realized he'd soon need to pee.

Despite long hours sitting through performances of Mahler symphonies or Wagner operas, Dr. Kerr found himself hard-pressed to withstand the onslaught of the music now filling the space of his prison.

"What tortures did they use four hundred years ago in this dungeon that could be any worse," he wondered.

How often had he told his students if they didn't like a piece to find something to listen to that would give them something to process, at least occupy their minds.

The problem Kerr faced, however, was how little there was to process, what little he deemed worth the effort. Rather than expectations expertly resolved, he was faced with amateurish missed opportunities. Ignoring the flow of music's underlying force, the composer earned few points by inadequately following his own inner logic.

He was reminded how old Brahms had told off young Hugo Wolf who'd come to him for some supportive advice only to be told what no struggling student ever wanted to hear.

"First you learn something, then" the master said, handing back his scores, "we'll see if you have any talent."

Was there nothing positive to point out, no well-turned phrase or motive, no instrumental color nor nicely voiced chord, something that couldn't be mentioned with at least a nod toward accomplishment?

Such frailties these egos are, creative souls always struggling in their isolation, relying on kind reactions and friendly support. Hadn't Brahms felt deep disappointment even at the peak of his career? He would destroy whole works that met with little enthusiasm from friends. Couldn't he understand how Wolf would feel?

By being unable to hear anything else after lengthy immersion in darkness, Kerr found all of his senses (including smell) eventually helped heighten the one sense that was most prodded into activity, leaving open the one he most desired to close: he could hear everything better, more clearly, more intensely.

"Crap..."

He felt like he was absorbing the music as a physical presence through every possible opening in his body before he realized, in fact, he was, whether as ear-worm or poison.

His eyes began to water until he could no longer focus, being unable to see anything in the darkness anyway.

"Am I crying? Is this stuff so awful it's causing physical pain?"

The music, like an infestation, crawled relentlessly under his skin, creeping stealthily through his ears, deeper toward his brain.

He could feel his muscles giving away, the tension flowing out of them as his brain refused to cooperate.

"I have to get out of here. I have to save Cameron..."

Above all, the heart beat and pulsing of the blood he'd earlier been able to feel in his wrists he now heard flooding through his inner ears, soon dissolving into blankness.

In the distance, he heard something different, oddly comforting, like someone singing, strangely audible through the continuing musical assault.

Seated one day at the organ,

"...I'm playing the organ...?" he thought.

I was weary and ill at ease

"...very..."

And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.


"...like white noise..."

I know not what I was playing,

"...it sounded only vaguely familiar..."

Or what I was dreaming then;

"...restful..."

But I struck one chord of music,

"...damn, was that an F7?..."

Like the sound of a great Amen.

It floated gently over him, enveloping his body, reaching for his soul.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an angel's psalm,


"My god, am I at my own funeral...?"

And it lay on my fevered spirit
...a touch of infinite calm.
It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife;


"Who's singing this...?"

It seemed the harmonious echo

"...harmonious echo?..."

His mind echoed like an empty room, reverberating to sounds of Sir Arthur Sullivan's famous hymn, 'The Lost Chord.'

"So, it's come to this...?"

From our discordant life.

"Resolve the dissonance..."

Would any of his music survive him? Was this all there was? Sadly, he realized nothing mattered any more.

In the distance, he was sure he could hear someone screaming.

Himself?

The pain was so intense: this music had finally reached his brain.

With that, Dr. Kerr was no more.

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 46 & 47

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, instead of interrogating Dr. Kerr, Tr'iTone wants to play chess with him which becomes the background for a lively if unexpected discussion about American attitudes toward the arts and the rules of tonal harmony. When Tr'iTone breaks the chess rules to win the game, mentioning Warnsdorff in his defence, Kerr has an epiphany: Warnsdorff - the Knight's Tour - the markings on the base of the Beethoven statue. It's a map!

= = = = = = =

Chapter 46

Tied to the coffee table, Fictitia tried to avoid the repulsive, skinny ex-rock star she'd inadvertently helped send to prison, but he was determined to torment her as much as inhumanly possible. Dragged off to his room down the hall, she had no choice: Scricci had her completely in his control. Gagged and bound, she would choke to death on her own vomit if he so much as touched her. What evil did he have in mind, opening up his violin case?

How would she ever manage to get out of here, get back to the old castle to rescue Cameron? What dangers could possibly lurk there that would be worse than this? There was nothing she could do but endure whatever torture he planned. Who would show up to rescue her?

Scricci began by turning the lights down low but she doubted he'd play soft music to set a romantic mood. He plugged the violin into a laptop but didn't bother to tune. From there, he proceeded to take off his clothes with suggestive movements, striking hideously seductive poses with his violin.

Did he really think that could possibly turn her on, she wondered? Well, yeah, maybe, with the right guy. Never afraid of some pain, it's just this guy was so old...

"Paybacks are a bitch, bitch," Scricci whispered hoarsely in his drug-ravaged voice, leaning forward with this presumably threatening bravado which he thought sounded either sexy or revolting, depending on your preferences.

"Your own private concert with the great Skripasha Scricci," he added, bowing.

(Okay, definitely revolting...)

He started to play.

Her fingers itched to be tweeting this, to somehow snap a pic if only she could reach her phone. Then it dawned on her: they hadn't taken her phone from her!

And wait a minute, her hand's loose, obviously not tied that tight – her feet, too, she realized, twisting them. Was it possible this idiot couldn't even tie up a hostage right?

She pretended to writhe to the music, keeping her eyes tightly closed and started thinking she might enjoy this.

Skripasha Scricci, once the world's most famous cross-over violinist, stripped to his boxers, swayed, strutted, gyrated and thrust his hips, lurching back and forth across the room playing his famous 'Infernal Dance,' his adaptation of Bach's curiously popular Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which had long been his trademark finale.

He could imagine the light show going off around him, bathing him in flashes of shocking reds and purples, the crowds cheering him on with each blast burning brighter and higher.

It probably sounded better with the amplification and all the computer-generated sound effects that covered his evident technical weaknesses, but still, he had to admit, he sounded "mighty damn awesome, yo!"

He would seduce her with his talent, rape her with his genius...

"Eat your fucking heart out, Frederick Pope!"

The door burst open and Kunegunde Nacht stormed in, her pistol drawn, catching that profusely sweating pig, Scricci, completely unaware.

"What the hell...?" Kunegunde demanded.

Scricci's eyes bugged out, staring at her.

Kunegunde aimed her pistol at the coffee table where Fictitia should've been, then at Scricci who begged for mercy.

"You ass-hole, the bloody bitch has fled!"

Finally, she turned it on the blasted violin and pulled the trigger.

"One small step for a music lover..."

The violin exploded, shards everywhere.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

The first thing racing through my mind, once Tr'iTone shut the door, considering that last threat he'd just made, was, "how long is it going to take someone like him to pee?" because that's how much time I had to figure out something I've been trying to figure out all night.

Night – knight... the Knight's Tour. "What does the Knight's Tour have to do with Beethoven?" was my next thought. After that came, "why had we wasted so much time playing chess?!"

Reading Perec's Life, a User's Manual disappointed me until I'd gotten past the ambiguity of his non-linear narrative style: it was like reading random vignettes from a day in the life. Interesting but with no easily apparent continuity, it became short-term memory, bedtime reading, a few pages here and there.

Unfortunately, first of all, I'd ignored reading his 'preamble' with its explanation of the art of the jigsaw puzzle maker, later reading how the novel's structure was based on this chessboard concept. And the epigram taken from Paul Klee: "The eye follows the paths laid down for it in the work."

It was the ever-present struggle of every artist trying to balance the creative concept with the individual's unique perception, combining the basics of craft with the essence of the intuitive response.

But what could Georges Perec and Paul Klee – or even Warnsdorf – have to do with Beethoven, much less Tr'iTone's fountain? Nothing, of course – it was all part of an ancient creative endeavor, but what they reminded me of, in their own ways, applied here, if I had time to follow them.

There was a path laid down here, something inherent in the work, if I could somehow only see it. The True Believer could approach Beethoven's world by following the knight's path.

What dim light there was in the booth, the numbing music aside, glinted off the inscription along Beethoven's thigh. We hadn't figured this out: I assumed it was still more code.

A series of letter and number pairs: then it dawned on me.

It was, in fact, all about chess!

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

All Klavdia had to do, it turned out, was tell the young man hanging around in front of Alice Tully Hall, checking his phone, that she was a friend of Dr. Kerr's, and if he'd come back to her place – "just a few blocks away" – she would show him the e-mail.

Dylan looked up, surprised by the elegantly dressed old woman with a mass of silver hair standing beside him. Not only did she know his name, she knew Dr. Kerr, too.

"What e-mail," he asked her, trying to overcome his fear of strangers since he never remembered meeting her before. Always bad at recalling faces, he wondered if he should ignore her. Cameron said it was a small world which annoyed Dylan no end. He hated when strangers talked to him.

Dylan looked around uncomfortably, not recognizing anyone else, then explained he was waiting for a couple friends after the concert and kept checking his phone hoping to hear from Dieter or Cameron.

The crowd continued flowing around them like a stream avoiding two stones. Dylan hoped Zoë wouldn't take too long.

But eventually his curiosity got the better of him after Klavdia explained how she didn't quite understand the message.

"No," she apologized, "I can't forward it. I am such a Luddite..."

Crossing Broadway, they made it to her brownstone in a few minutes where she offered him some iced tea while they stood around waiting for her old computer to boot up.

Dylan said he couldn't stay long, he only really wanted to know if Cameron and the professor were okay.

Apologizing about how slow her computer was, she noticed Dylan getting very dizzy and helped him into a chair.

Once her e-mail finally opened, the young man had already passed out.

"You can tell our friend Dr. Kerr I have someone very special to his little assistant, here," she typed. "If he fails to cooperate with you, just give me the word."

Klavdia hit 'send' and watched the message disappear from her computer screen.

Meanwhile, Dylan barely felt his phone vibrating.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

The pairs of letters and numbers on Beethoven's thigh described chess moves – actually, the squares the different pieces moved to – but only a handful, maybe a dozen, enough to start the path. From there, following Warnsdorff's algorithm, the challenge was to continue the pattern, finding each square it would move through.

This would be Lohengrin's Journey, our quest, not finding the Holy Grail but something equally elusive and artistically necessary. By finding it, we'd approach Beethoven's world if we were True Believers.

The problem was the chessboard was nothing but partial images – tiny pictograms – all jumbled up in something completely incomprehensible. Put them in order according to the path, it could make sense.

Was this puzzle a map to help locate Beethoven's Fountain of Inspiration? I needed to find the knight's entrance.

The door opened slowly and Tr'iTone reappeared, the light increasing behind him.

"It's a map," I said, "look at this," holding the statue out to him upside down, pointing to the base.

"The Knight's Tour pattern forms a path starting at the knight's entrance which eventually will lead to the goal."

"But a map, you say?" He roared as he held it aloft. "Let's see if you're correct, Herr Doktor."

After he closed the door, I sensed I was being left behind.


Chapter 47

"Yes," he thought, "it almost does look a bit like a map, lines for latitude and longitude – are these roads?" but beyond that he found himself stymied, unable to see anything more. "I am no idiot, I can figure this out," he told himself. "Everyone always said, 'kid, you're a genius!'"

Suddenly, he was back in his advanced theory class, dealing with serial matrices which they called Schoenberg's 'Magic Squares.' The Rubik's Cube of music – he never managed to unlock their secrets.

"The kid knows the solution, probably brighter than the old man, anyway. Isn't that usually the case," he chuckled. Never putting much stock in broken-down academics, he stomped over to Cameron.

Tr'iTone held the statue above his face and easily got his attention, pointing at it while shouting nasty threats.

The boy continued to writhe, bouncing up and down, sweating even more, his eyes bugged out with rapidly increasing fear.

"He thinks I'm going to bash his head in with it. Sweet!"

Tr'iTone quickly turned all the various control knobs down to almost nothing.

Removing the gag, he growled, "Tell me!"

Cameron, panting in exhaustion, glowered at Tr'iTone.

"Tell me what this means," Tr'iTone barked, showing him the statue's base.

"I never saw that before!"

Tr'iTone cranked the volume up to high.

If this was a puzzle that someone had already filled it in, how was he to deconstruct the process, figuring out where to begin, then following the path to the end? The idea such a reordering could turn this mess into a map challenged his creativity but dampered his imagination.

"Kerr would've figured more of it out," he thought, cursing his impetuosity, "but I was in such a hurry! It would be admitting defeat, going back to demand he finish it!

"I was never good at solving puzzles and this is," he admitted, "almost like some crossword puzzle or Sodhuku." He recalled how he once destroyed a Rubik's Cube, exploding in frustration. It made him the laughing-stock of Grant MacArthur's uppity little private academy. The memory embarrassed him to this day.

Scratching his sweating forehead, Tr'iTone looked up, frustrated to realize his limitations, wondering what he was going to do now. He roared and slammed his fists on the table, making everything bounce.

"Crossword puzzles, the bane of my existence! How dare I consider myself a genius when such skills I lack?"

But it wasn't a crossword puzzle, exactly, it only vaguely resembled one, both squares made up of little squares. Thinking of it more as a chessboard would help: chess, he understood.

Lost in this awareness of his limitations and awash in unfamiliar insecurity, he looked up to notice Lionel Roth.

"Speaking of insecurities, what is Roth doing, sitting there in that corner?"

Roth was working on another crossword puzzle, something he'd do for hours.

"Yo, Lionel," he ordered gruffly, "Come here!"

Roth picked up the statue and examined the base, turning it around as Tr'iTone explained what Kerr had told him.

What Roth saw appeared to be a jumble of lines and squiggles. The problem was how to re-order them.

For that, he would first need to download the little-known iJig app.

After turning it into a jigsaw puzzle and carefully numbering each piece according to the squares of a chessboard, he could plot the moves and reassemble them into some logical order.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

"Ah, order!" – something Roth felt his life had always lacked. He sighed. There was order in math, order in music. These were things he liked and he liked them for having order. Unlike most of his life which, even when he was in school, was always on the verge of chaos.

The other black students always busted on him for liking classical music, something that was foreign to their culture. They called him an 'oreo,' a white man underneath his black skin.

The white kids said he was too smart for his own good, always showing them up in math class, always getting in trouble with those who found him easy to bully. They took it out on him in gym class which he hated, too short and clumsy to play sports.

It was near the end of his senior year one warm evening, going for a walk with his friend, Wes, another gym-hating, science-loving geek wearing thick glasses who played clarinet in band. They'd gone their separate ways after Wes decided to meet some friends near Chez Bullwinkle's, the gay bar downtown.

Three guys caught Lionel walking home afterward and demanded to know where his 'little faggot friend' was headed, something about teaching him a lesson for eying them up in the shower.

He took a moment to contemplate what might happen if he sent them off to the Lesbian bar uptown, knowing they'd get beaten up themselves if they went looking for a fight, rather than sending them downtown to the left and the gay bar where he knew his friend had gone.

Instead, he'd told the truth – isn't that what you're supposed to do? – and Wes had gotten badly beaten up. Roth blamed himself for betraying his friend, but what could he do?

He knew they'd only beat him up once they discovered his deception, taking everything out on the class weakling. If it didn't happen the next day, it would happen some day.

What would happen if he chose to do the right thing now, given he was older and supposedly wiser?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

She knew it could've become the most horrible experience of her life but fortunately for her Scricci was so self-centered, turning her presumed punishment into performance art (at least in his mind), whatever he was building up to had given Fictitia the perfect opportunity to escape before he would even notice. Fortunately for her, he was one of those performers who played most of the time with his eyes closed. And lucky, also, he had no henchmen or body guards standing around.

As luck would have it, she'd sneaked into the hallway just as she saw Kunegunde getting off the elevator: she was accompanied by several heavily armed agents clad in white uniforms. Fictitia quickly ducked down the back stairs, hoping she could get to the lobby before her escape was discovered.

It was enough she'd overheard that idiot Scricci and the traitorous Kunegunde talking about things they assumed she couldn't hear, mostly taking their attention away from tying her to the coffee table. It's like they pretended she wasn't there but then maybe they assumed she wouldn't live long enough to talk.

But at least she reached the lobby and the coast was clear: there were no white-clad agents in sight. Now, out to the parking lot and – what, steal yet another vehicle?

There was no one at the desk, no one in the hallway, a clear shot to the main entrance. Fictitia walked toward the door, hoping nobody's watching the security camera monitors.

"Fictitia!"

She kept on going though the voice had sounded friendly enough. Fortunately, she noticed he hadn't shouted 'Halt!'

"Fictitia, what's up? It's me," he said, as if the sound of his voice was enough to identify him. "It's me, Harper – Harper Roytt," he laughed, "the Wizard of the Viola?"

"Oh," Fictitia said, turning suddenly. "Sorry, I'm in, like, this huge hurry! A friend's in trouble at the castle." Gesturing urgently, she tried explaining about Cameron being held by evil agents.

"Cool, but my friend Preston Agitato with security here's already on it."

"Your friend's one of the bad guys!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Roth scanned the statue's base into the computer and substantially enlarged it, the iJig software slicing it into individual squares. He carefully numbered each of the squares, then began plotting 'the Tour.' More difficult was figuring out the rest but fortunately he went on-line and found a program for that, too.

The computer then started sliding the squares out to the margins, then back inside as the Tour pattern required. It was good Tr'iTone had left him alone while he did this.

A map took shape as the squares floated into their proper places.

"It looks like a map of... here!"

Though unfamiliar with the region, Roth recognized enough from what he'd seen.

There was the old castle, its courtyard, the old cemetery, forests, winding roads out to the road to Ottobeuren.

Tr'iTone returned, fully dressed now all in black like a cat burglar but one with a splendid sense of style. Roth showed him the completed map he had printed from the computer.

Looking at the trail, Tr'iTone realized he's already at the starting point.

"But where's my goal," he asked impatiently.

"According to the map, Roth explained, it ends at the Falkenstein Farm: unfortunately, the long-sought goal no longer exists."

"That was over a hundred years ago: what’s there now?"

"The Festspielhaus!"

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 45

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, there had been critics since the beginning of time. Tr'iTone, in his quest to find the Fountain of Inspiration, introduces himself to Dr. Kerr. Dylan, back in New York, wonders why Cameron isn't answering his texts, so he calls a chat-friend to enlist his help. Tr'iTone reveals he has Cameron's letter, the one from Beethoven. That's when he remembers texting about it with some guy named Fred, a Facebook friend of Dylan's. Kerr recalls how he and Sullivan had once talked about "searching for the dragon's blood" as a quick fix and now here Kerr's hearing it from the (granted, rather repulsive) lips of one of Sullivan's own students! Meanwhile, Dylan's chain of contacts manages to work as one of them reaches a friend in the Schweinwald Security Force.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 45

"Would you do me the honor of playing a game of chess?" Tr'iTone's cordiality was a dissonance with his appearance, as he leaned forward, handing me two pawns – one white, another black.

My look of disbelief probably confused him.

"Will you do the honors?"

I shuffled them around in my hands.

When I held out my clenched fists, he tapped the left hand which I opened, revealing the black pawn.

"Ah, good," he smiled. "Black, they tell me, is my best color."

He nodded and turned the board so the white pieces faced me.

"If you've forgotten, that means you begin."

I pushed the pawn in front of my King forward two squares.

He did the same on his side so they now faced each other in the center of the board.

His idea of playing chess had stunned me, after ripping the tape from around my wrists so I could play but not so I could examine the statue and solve the clues. There was so little time to solve them or find his fountain and now I'm playing chess with him.

But he had already killed Rob and, presumably, Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, not to mention the guy up in the vestibule. Where was LauraLynn? And what about Cameron? How could I say no?

If the music wasn't already annoying enough, my host and adversary kept up a steady stream of distracting commentary.

"But isn't it a shame how the United States," he rambled, "can't hold a candle to Europe as a civilized society, except in the pretense of arrogantly maintaining its own superiority?"

He wondered, well into some on-going discussion, why government support for the arts was elitist but necessary for corporations.

I assumed he wasn't being entirely rhetorical.

"Your move, by the way?"

Barely able to listen much less concentrate, I took my king's bishop and sadly moved him out to c4, thinking Tr'iTone would move his bishop out to a face-off in c5.

But instead my opponent confidently moved his king's knight out to f6.

I had no idea what came next.

"What do Americans cut first from their budgets?" But before I could answer, if it was even expected, he responded, "The Arts, naturally – and I'm speaking of 'Art' with a capital A. It's pathetic that one of the major attributes by which we measure human civilization has become so pathetically cheapened. The discussion today is unfortunately more about how 'relevant' classical music is rather than how powerful it can be to preserve the human soul against everything striving to tear it down!

"It's not how 'relevant' classical music is to politics or pop culture – Mozart, the Lady Gaga of his day! It's fuckin' ART, dude – " (pumping his fist) – "it is its OWN relevance!"

His tone of voice fluctuated between the genteel demeanor of Dr. Dhabbodhú and the taunts of a rabble-rousing protestor.

"How do we evaluate success in America," continuing without dropping a beat. "We judge everything commercially, by the corporate way. A film's success isn't determined by critical response but by box-office profits. So a concert succeeds or fails by the number of tickets sold, unrelated to how well it was enjoyed."

It was hardly the idea of succeeding that prompted me to move my Queen's pawn cautiously forward a block.

His response was immediate, cool and natural, sliding a pawn into c6.

"I believe, unless I'm mistaken, Dr. Kerr, you call yourself a composer?" his tone still cordial but suddenly becoming oily. Sitting back, I didn't trust where this new topic might be going. Without waiting for a response, he threw his head back and laughed, a big barrel-chested laugh, theatrical and cringe-worthy.

"It seems anybody can call themselves a composer these days, I suppose, anyone putting two chords down on paper. And now, they don't even need paper, with all these computer programs!"

Tr'iTone sputtered wildly, trying to control himself. "No, I mean composers worthy of the term, true artists with vision, with innate self-respect for their own integrity standing atop their creative pinnacle. And not just a modicum of indefinable talent to get them by, but true, unmitigated genius – awesome, freakin' GENIUS!"

He leaned closer to me until I could feel his stinking breath on my skin like a blow-torch, searingly hot, his eyes glowering at me looking like every cliché in the book.

"Someone," he continued, "who'll restore the focus where it belongs – unlike you! Are you going to move sometime tonight?"

Pretending I knew what I was doing, I moved my Queen's bishop as confidently as possible over to g5.

Without batting an eye, he moved a seemingly innocuous pawn to h6.

I had expected something flashier as he continued talking without any break.

"Popular music exists to entertain, people judging everything by its entertainment value – the artistic equivalent of the corporate bottom-line.

"How can anyone listen mindlessly to great music reduced to the background, constantly shifting wallpaper for their daily existence?

"People in power," he continued to rant, becoming increasingly insidious and hostile, "have forgotten what power Art can have and in their blissful ignorance, they will do so at... their... peril!"

After some scrupulous consideration, I moved my bishop from g5 to f6 and successfully scored the match's first 'take,' managing to pick up my opponent's knight, not that insignificant a loss.

Admittedly, it felt pretty good, even using as little ostentation as possible: the journey was only now just beginning.

"I love playing chess which, as you know, is an ancient game: 'the sport of kings,' they once called it. It's a war game straight out of the Middle Ages' feudal society. Yet it remains virtually unchanged even today despite its continued popularity among the more intellectual, less than aristocratic classes. Now what possible 'relevance' does chess have to our modern military world considering how easily it can be replaced: aren't the violence and technical ingenuities of, say, 'Warcraft' much more relevant? But no one I know of is seriously campaigning to simplify chess, making it more accessible to inexperienced players. Does anyone decry its demise or claim interest in it is dying?"

He gestured theatrically with mocking, grievous sobs, his hands fluttering over the board like one mourning its imminent end.

"True," I said, "Schoenberg invented a three-sided board and TV's 'Big Bang Theory' added orcs to their multi-level three-dimensional version, but those are hardly simplifications – if anything, they create greater intellectual stimulation."

My references to classical music's bete noir of elitism and to popular culture in the same breath was virtuosic.

"Yes, it's all part of an accepted elitism reinforcing its own integrity. So, what do you think of that?"

After less hesitation than usual, I moved my queen's knight to c3.

"Not much, apparently," he said, moving another pawn two spaces to b5.

"It is typical of apologists to bemoan the use of technical terms in describing the details of classical music."

Effortlessly, he veered off onto another tangent.

"Translate everything into the vernacular, explain every term mentioned – pizzicato, meaning 'plucked'..."

He snorted, pulling himself upright. "Now, I know nothing about most sports, except for wrestling, basically chess's physical equivalent. I wouldn't know a 'first down' from a 'birdie' or 'pop-up fly.'

"But," he hissed, "is anyone demanding they define every term so they don't alienate anyone unfamiliar with their rules? No, the whole point of enjoyment is to learn the necessary language."

I pulled my remaining bishop back to b3, not really sure why. Perhaps I should have castled my king.

Tr'iTone pushed his far-right pawn forward two spaces while arguing that the whole point was to feel that you belonged.

"That's what an 'elite' is – a private club, insiders with secret handshakes. If you wanted to belong, you would initiate yourself in its mysteries: cars, sports, science, computers – but not music?

"There is essentially no other way," he said, "to arrive at Truth than through some educated exchange of ideas, though it leaves people vulnerable to manipulation even in a Free Society.

"But without the discernment the Fine Arts are supposed to teach us, consider our commercial media and political propaganda. If that's not the case, why else do we have American Idol?"

I moved my far-left pawn into a3, then Tr'iTone, with mocking smiles, quickly placed his king's bishop on c5.

"What a listener hears in a symphony may have nothing in common with what the person next to him hears, the power of the Idea abrogated by its lack of absolute meaning."

"Would it matter," I pretended to counter, "that the next generation will devise new antitheses to prolong the cycle?"

Without fanfare or extraneous movement, I placed my king's knight in f3. Though it was directly in line with his Queen, I realized it was also protected by a lowly pawn.

Maybe it would be better to get this over with, I wondered, as he quietly nudged another pawn into d6, needlessly prolonging the agony further when so much needed to be done.

"True," he resumed, without showing much interest, "everything can be viewed through the conflict and resolution of the Dialectic. But, really, that's all very outmoded now, long invalidated by Marxist Communism – a philosophical version of discredited Darwinian Evolution – confirming in itself the on-going dialectic formula (rather cleverly, don't you think?).

"Isn't the problem," he continued, "the constant conflict of opposing viewpoints never leading to any kind of perfective resolution, always headed toward the unobtainable, every resolution a new but never-ending contradiction?"

I was trying not to exhibit the never-ending concerns I felt for LauraLynn and Cameron, not to mention myself.

"If you applied basic underlying tonal concepts," he said, "to free chromaticism, yet express traditional concepts of tension and release, you'd have a more systematized approach to writing with all twelve tones – not in a serial sense as Schoenberg & Company had envisioned it, but not in an 'atonal' sense, either."

I slipped my Queen into d2; he swept his Bishop into e6. Suddenly, I saw I could take that bishop with my own bishop on b3 so, without waiting, I did.

He just as quickly took my bishop with his pawn in f7 which, in my haste, I'd completely overlooked.

"Then the Jains use a construction that deliciously describes statements like this," he said, setting my captured bishop aside, "as 'maybe it is, maybe it isn't' and also 'maybe it's indescribable.'"

Again, he laughed before adding "That's enough to blow the cerebral cortex of any Western brain mired in logic."

The music began shifting again as the barely visible light became bluer.

"There is a dark side to creativity, that quest for autonomy outside the usual constraints of acceptable societal responsibilities. By stressing rules and orders, we're teaching people not to be creative."

I decided to castle my king, placing it in g1: why not? If nothing else, it slowed him down.

"But isn't it important," I countered, "to learn the process to understand why these rules work in the first place, so that we can understand why the rules are what they are, whether they appear to work only for convention's sake, or work for us as expressions of our creative intent? Can't we adapt, bend or actually break them if we have some constructive alternative to put in their place?"

Why shouldn't my tone, I wondered, be just as obfuscatory as his?

"Ah yes, as the Italians say, Imparte l'arte, e metilla da parte: 'Learn the craft, then put it aside.' But without genius, isn't craft only a limited paradigm of acceptable procedures?"

"Without craft, isn't genius attempting to find some wheel that needs reinventing? – again the dialectic of Intellectualism versus Intuitivism?"

I rather blithely moved a pawn into h3 while he, deep in contemplation, cautiously moved his knight back to d7, uncharacteristically keeping his fingers on it while working out several alternative possibilities.

"It allows Beethoven to become Beethoven," I said, "building on Haydn's legacy, or to break more obviously with the..."

Tr'iTone made two successive moves, first to e5, then surprisingly to f3, announcing quite gleefully, "Check, I do believe!"

"But, you can't..." I spluttered, "that goes against The Rules, doesn't it?"

"What's the matter, doctor," he said, taunting me, "your cerebral cortex unable to process a little thinking outside the box?" He turned his head to the side and grinned maliciously at me.

There was a difference between outright flaunting of the rules in a game, I knew, and sheer desperation, however.

"It's all part of the Warnsdorff Algorithm," he said with final authority. "You have heard of that, I imagine?"

"But," I whined, "not as a way to subvert the... wait, what...?"

There's that name again: Warnsdorff – the one Zenn had mentioned so mysteriously as we left his castle earlier tonight – referring to the intricate pattern established by a knight's movements in chess.

A 'Knight's Tour' was the path it could take covering the board without hitting any square more than once.

There's more to it than just a pattern, something vaguely recalled from reading Georges Perec's novel, Life, A User's Manual, how its structure was based on Warnsdorff's principal of this 'Knight's Tour.' It seemed arbitrary, visiting all the inhabitants in a Paris apartment building at the time of one character's death.

Instead of a chessboard, though, Perec's reader traveled through every single apartment in this building according to a plan which, by glimpsing every individual's personal story, created a snapshot in time.

"The poem on the statue is not what it seems," I shouted.

It was Tr'iTone's turn to say "wait... what?"

"It's not Lohengrin's journey, but a knight's tour we need to follow."

"What the hell are you babbling about?" Tr'iTone stood up and swept the chessboard away with the Beethoven statue.

"That marking on the base," I said, "it's an 8x8 matrix, see? Look carefully: I think it's a map!"

"You didn't tell me this?"

"You're the one wanting to play chess..."

Becoming increasingly enraged, Tr'iTone roared and tossed the statue into my lap.

"Time is running out, Doctor," he yelled. "I have to go pee: you will solve this before I return!"

He slammed the door shut behind him as the music got louder.

"At least, I hope it's a map..."

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 43 & 44

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Tr'iTone complains that Dr. Kerr is not being a team player and threatens Cameron. Peter Moonbeam recovers from the attack in his hotel room as Kunegunda Nacht delivers Fictitia to her old nemesis, Skripasha Scricci. Moonbeam, trying to find Schreiber in the Festspielhaus, listens to his voicemail and overhears Schreiber's message interrupted by gunfire, then silence, as he finds a place to hide.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 43

Though there's no biblical record to suggest it, can anyone doubt Adam wondered what the younger generation was coming to, especially after that nastiness between his sons nearly wiped out the population? Six generations after God had branded him with the mark of Cain, Cain's great-great-great-great-grandson was born and named Jubal. The inventor of the flute and harp, he became the first musician, the symbolic father of all future musicians and, if it needs mentioning, a man descended from the first murderer. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention who the first critic was, though it was probably his brother Jabal. Or maybe it was his half-brother, Tubal-cain, whose name bore Cain's mark. As the world's first foundryman, Tubal-cain forged instruments of bronze and iron but later critics became forgers of words.

Critics might use these words with great skill, wielding them like mighty weapons against performers they considered murderers of art, continuing to avenge Cain's legacy, protecting us from not so original sins. Other times, they preferred merely to wound or annoy their chosen victims with clever turns of phrase and witticisms. Or perhaps show them art's true meaning through which they'd achieve forgiveness and cleanse the errors of their ways, stamping out diversions from the One Path: unfortunately, not all critics agreed.

With their columns in our once-great newspapers, critics became pillars of society by becoming respected intermediaries between the various interpretations of an indecipherable art and those who cannot understand it themselves. People would read their words and shake their heads, agreeing or disagreeing, or, in some middle ground, nodding dimly. It's not only recently mankind became incapable of forming his own decisions, recognizing what is good and what's not. A composition is created and it's performed: somehow, people must be told.

It isn't that this is necessarily limited to the arts, is it? Political divisions existed before there were 'spin-doctors.' Could we develop our own moral sense without the help of priests? I mean, one could imagine God saying "If it had been unnecessary, d'you really think I would've created theologians?"

We often joke, don't we – we creative types – about "artists who create, can, but artists who can't instead become critics," though let's not go any further into the deeper psychological implications, here. The difference between artists and, well... 'normal' people is usually regarded as a very fine line bordering on madness. One could argue, perhaps, for something like Alcibiades' explanation of human love, seeing who becomes either artist or critic, which might justify various critics' particular affinities, their intellectual or emotional preferences.

There are few creative artists who succeeded in their lives as critics, since it must inevitably create inner conflicts. Possibly the most famous was Robert Schumann who died in an asylum. Some think he was schizophrenic, employing his two 'natures' in his articles, the heroic Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius.

Today, the polite term would be 'bi-polar' – today he could be treated, his disorder kept under control through various medications. Yes, his life might have been less tortured and, no doubt, longer. How different Beethoven's music might have been if he hadn't been deaf, but what about Schumann's? – think of that.

If he had not had to deal with his inner demons, would he have become a composer at all? And if he hadn't, what kind of critic might he have been?

Robert Schumann is regarded as classical music's equivalent of John the Baptist, a good if not exactly a great composer, the flawed artist always seeing in younger composers something better coming along, one who would be greater than he, succeeding where he had failed, one who'd become the heir to Beethoven. Brahms was only one such future hero, so many on Schumann's list his colleagues could be forgiven their skepticism. And it took Brahms a long time to fulfill this inescapable prophecy. Without it, would Brahms have been challenged to write as he did, choosing instead what most young composers did, writing before that mature handful several 'training' symphonies which might've become masterpieces? Would twenty more string quartets by Brahms be as good as the ones we know, those three he published?

Unlike Schumann, many older composers seemed intent on eliminating their younger competition, never seeing the potential in their new ideas, never accepting the fact sometimes, like it or not, change is inevitable. Of course, they never liked being viewed as Old Fogeys, did they, their outmoded concepts desperately outliving their worth. Haydn, always an indifferent teacher at best, may have foreseen Beethoven's ascendancy but had no capacity to understand it. What Schumann saw in Brahms, Brahms failed to see in Hans Rott.

Naturally, the argument can be made that Hans Rott was no Brahms, his symphony full of many youthful indiscretions, but was Hans Rott at 20, writing his symphony, all that different from Johannes Brahms who at 20 showed up unannounced on Schumann's doorstep, bringing with him a handful of sonatas? Old Brahms had considered himself art's apex – "after me comes the dungheap" – believing younger composers ignored the necessary skills, having nothing good to say about newer voices like Mahler or Strauss.

That was how Tr'iTone usually remembered studying with the great Robertson Sullivan, never quite gaining approval, receiving only discouragement. "Juilliard be damned," he'd felt, becoming a composer despite his famous teacher. If he'd been more like Hans Rott, just beyond that fine line, wouldn't the world be a poorer place?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

If we're running out of time as he kept yelling at me, holding me captive in this supposedly sound-proofed booth, why, then, did he continued to jabber on at me like this, forcing me to listen to his music and this manifesto of his if he's adamant about finding this fountain? He had given me an hour's deadline – and meanwhile what about those threats to amputate LauraLynn finger by finger? Cameron was still flopping around like a fish left high and dry.

I wanted to tell him either to let me solve the clues or just go and kill me now, but it didn't seem a good idea to suggest such limited options. I also thought about asking him for a print-out of his rant since I couldn't possibly remember it all.

"That's great," I told him, hoping to get him back on track by mentioning again what I'd already discovered when – "wait, did you just say you studied at Juilliard with Rob Sullivan?"

He looked over at me with what would be hard to describe as either a smile or a sneer.

It took a moment to process this, information I hadn't been expecting and which may prove to be enlightening. It certainly connected two very significant dots – the killer and his victim.

The man standing in front of me, who'd spent some fifteen minutes ranting about critics and unhelpful older composers, was now something more than just a caricature of a hulking monster. Whatever his physical attributes might have been, this made him more human even if it couldn't soften his essence. He became instead a hulking monster with personal issues and a history, maybe some psychological damage from the past. Abuse can be uncovered in different ways and reveal scars left behind.

He was, however, still an overpowering figure I had to contend with, one who already had (allegedly) committed murder and one I imagined who could (allegedly) be capable of further violence. Unfortunately, I couldn't call anyone to tell them about this major breakthrough. Even Cameron wouldn't find it very comforting.

"That's right," my captor said, bending lower to be at eye level, reminding me he's also dealing with hygiene issues. "They don't call you the brilliant Dr. Kerr for nothing, I see!"

It was difficult for me to take that entirely as a compliment but I let it pass for now.

"Allow me to introduce myself, Professor Kerr. I apologize for being impolite." He stood up, leaning against the doorway. He struck a pose I could barely see in the room's dimness.

"Before you stands a composer, poet of pitch and painter of tones, a genius of superior intellect and sensitivity." He held out his arms to symbolically embrace the whole of mankind.

"I am the culmination of the past, the breath of the future, the greatest ever – call me Tr'iTone!"

Once the roar died down and my hearing began its slow return, Tr'iTone's maniacal laugh modulated into a diabolical snarl, inching ever closer as he revealed one more of Rob Sullivan's faults.

Tr'iTone didn't just lack skill or talent: Sullivan told him even drinking from the Fountain of Inspiration wouldn't help.

"And he kept telling me I needed to taste the dragon's blood!"

Oh, please, not that wives' tale again...

"He couldn't teach me this, tell me how to find this fountain?!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

It had been several hours since they'd arrived in Germany, hadn't it? – more specifically, at Schweinwald after landing in Munich – and Dylan hadn't heard anything from Cameron since he last texted him. That was the one about that bum who fell in the fountain but that had been, like, hours ago. Dylan followed everything on Cameron's Facebook page – he'd been posting frequent updates – but even those came to a stand-still.

"That was back around 1:30, wasn't it?" Dylan calculated the time-zone difference.

His last activity indicated he'd become friends with someone named Fictitia LaMouche who then posted a self-pic of them sitting on the fountain's edge, smiling at arm's length into her phone. Then there was another pic looking back at this statue of Beethoven with Dr. Kerr and some tall guy.

What began to bother him was realizing, while he was eating dinner, it was already well past midnight in Munich and that Cameron would've posted about the opera after it was over. He wasn't one to interrupt a performance by getting his phone out, but afterward, certainly, some photos and updates...?

"So how was it? Good?" Dylan texted him, hoping for a response. "I'm eating a burger and fries. You?" Dylan was bad at texting: he hated using all those silly abbreviations.

Then he thought he'd call him again, tell him his concert plans, wishing he'd be there to share it (this was the one Cameron's violin teacher, Zoë Crevecoeur, was playing in). Sure he'd want him to say hello, Dylan would meet her afterward, maybe go for a bite to eat. Cameron's phone was 'currently unavailable' and Dylan's call went automatically to voice-mail. He figured Cameron forgot to 'juice up,' or maybe Dr. Kerr had borrowed his phone and lost it again.

Just in case, he posted a brief message to Cameron's Facebook wall, figuring he'd read it in the morning. It was really late, there: he must be sound asleep by now.

"Going to hear Zoe play Beethoven's Ghost then meet her after concert. I'll tell her hi from you. Hugs."

Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio was one of his favorites and Dylan was particularly sorry Cameron had to miss this performance, especially, Zoe's first big break since she'd gotten that new violin of hers. She'd been good to Cameron, such an inspiration over the past years, and he'd been sorry to miss it.

During intermission, Dylan checked his Facebook account and found he'd been tagged: somebody left a comment on his post. "The one on Cameron's wall?" He clicked through, anxious to read it.

"Dylan help Cameron in lots of trouble"

It was from Fictitia LaMouche, that girl he'd met at the fountain.

She'd posted it maybe thirty minutes ago and there'd been nothing since.

"What kind of trouble? Where is he?" then added "pm me, please?"

Then he decided to call a friend.

His screen-name was 'Dieter Pieterieter' and he said he lived in Ravensburg which Dylan knew was somewhere in Southern Bavaria. Dieter was a night owl and they often chatted late at night.

"Hey, Dylan baby, how're you and that super hot boyfriend of yours?" He never liked beating around the bush.

Dylan explained Cameron was in Germany, apparently in some kind of trouble, and asked if he'd call the police.

"Better yet, I know someone at Schweinwald – I'll give him a call!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

"Honestly," he said, "if you're the brilliant professor they say you are, why can't you figure out some simple clues and find this Fountain of Inspiration for me? Time is running out!" Tr'iTone pulled the door shut behind him with a hinge-rattling thud. "Idiot!" He looked around but couldn't find Roth. The light in the dungeon became intensely green as the color-wheel turned, giving everything including Cameron an amphibious glow. Tr'iTone paused to listen as a strand spun beguilingly through the cellos.

He was particularly proud how the harmonic details reflected the overall form, mirrored proportionally in the micro-intensive chord sequence unfolding in this long-delayed resolution to the new key of A Major. Anyone with half a brain listening to this would refute Sullivan's assessment: "'Lacking skill and talent'? Sullivan's an idiot!"

The whole world would recognize his genius before the night is out, after all these years of work and preparation, only a little more to be done before his genius is revealed. Yet the final ritual is not complete, not everything is in place.

"Perhaps Mr. Pierce will move things along."

Again, he slowly lowered several of the dials on his biofeedback apparatus as Cameron's spasms gradually became less intense. When his captive stopped writhing, Tr'iTone smiled, then yanked off the gag.

Cameron struggled for breath once he was released from the Bolero's grip, his head pounding to its complexity of layers, their maddening music all hammering away in different tempos and different keys. He couldn't tell which instrument had the melody now – perhaps the oboe – played with the acuity of a buzz-saw.

"How did you get that letter?" Cameron sputtered hopelessly, staring at him. "How did you even know about it?" He felt exhausted, his brain was fried but here was new danger.

"Loose lips sink more than ships, boy! You can't be too careful." Tr'iTone waved the envelope above his face. "I had help from friends of yours, not that it matters, now."

"What will you do with it?" Cameron asked, hoping to sound defiant.

"Do...? Why – I'm going to burn it!"

Chapter 44

"What did this guy mean, 'I had help from friends of yours'?" Cameron's mind was whirling with countless new fears. "I wasn't, like, telling people, 'Hey, I have a letter from Beethoven!' I mean, the only ones who knew anything about it," he thought, "were Terry, of course, and Dylan. Uh-oh..."

It wasn't like either of them would have told anyone else, right? So who else found out about it? And anyway who would have believed it, a college freshman, like that?

He had no idea where the letter came from – nothing definite, anyway. It all seemed like a strange dream. "I mean, how could Beethoven possibly have handed me this letter himself?" Everything was odd from that weekend last summer at the Crevecoeur Farm, so many things he no longer remembered.

Yet there it was, buried at the bottom of his underwear drawer and this vague recollection how it got there. Terry couldn't tell him much about it, part of some weird dream. He told him to put it in a safe-deposit box and wait a few years, then have it published. Terry even echoed something he vaguely recalled from that dream of his – had he told Terry anything about that? – contacting a particular musicology magazine in Europe after he graduated from college.

He'd been reading about Beethoven for that lit survey class of his – a really good course with Dr. Haar – but it was like his thoughts were frequently interrupted late at night, like Beethoven was speaking directly to him – odd, because Cameron wasn't that familiar with much of Beethoven's music, yet. He'd been startled in class last month when Dr. Haar looked around and asked certain students in the class if they'd felt that Beethoven's music 'spoke' to them, touched their souls...

Then he remembered that thread he'd seen posted on Facebook's Beethoven fan-page about a recently discovered letter from Beethoven, the one where Dylan had tagged him, thinking he'd find it interesting.

The other night, he'd been 'messaged' by some chatty guy named Fred, one of Dylan's handful of Facebook friends.

Fred began, "So what’s this I hear about your letter from Beethoven?"

Cameron answered, "Uh... what letter from Beethoven?" ("Jeez...")

"The one they say you got from Beethoven."

"wtf?"

"I know LOL"

Cameron continued, "idk where ppl come up w/this stuff."

Then, a pause.

"hey, post it here," Fred added.

"Why?"

"I could do a paper on it for Haar's 19th Century Survey!"

Was this guy for real? Cameron checked and according to his info, Fred was a music student at UPenn.

Cameron hesitated before answering him. "LOL Sorry don’t have it with me."

He didn't want to seem particularly rude. With any luck, this was going to be the end of it.

Cameron needed to ask Dylan who this guy was, where they'd met. Was he real or some whacko stalker?

Fred replied, "Then where DO you have it?"

"LOL not in my apartment, you can bank on that" ("you jerk...")

Once more, "heh heh so you DO have it, don't you?"

"j/k"

Five minutes later, Fred resumed the thread. "lets def grab lunch soon"

This guy was already long past annoying.

Cameron waited. "leaving in a few days for a trip to Germany"

"Damn," Cameron thought, "shouldn't have said that..."

"Hey then maybe after ur back"

"Maybe..."

Was that how it happened?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

She knew it could be a major risk, walking past her old haunts and seeing some of her former friends, street people from her past, what she now called her second life. Most of them had probably drifted away and some no doubt died, so eventually it made going out easier. Last winter she'd thought about inviting two of her closest fellow street-mates to live in the spare bedrooms upstairs, but how could she explain her helping them without giving herself away?

Now, they're both gone. Zombella, a teenage runaway abused by her parents, a drug addict since she was twelve, had probably become a prostitute or was doing time on possession charges; Crazy Clarice, the one who'd been raped by that lecher called Hannibal, recently died for lack of medical attention.

Could she give some of her money to a foundation or church, maybe set up a center for the homeless – food, shelter, some medical care – something that might help her old friends rather than transplanting them to other neighborhoods where tourists wouldn't see them and people could forget they ever existed?

But she'd wanted to go back in time to rescue her mom from being killed in that horrible accident and look where that had gotten her: best to leave things be.

Her new life – she called it her third – provided her with all the comfort and security her previous lives lacked, but it really was boring as hell, so predictable and totally meaningless. It was great having nothing to do – no job, no responsibilities, nothing to practice (having once been a musician), but you couldn't read that many books and TV sucked big time (“Survivor? Oh, please – been there, done that!") Spending time on the Internet at least kept her off the streets.

She hated Facebook – selfish people posting awful pictures of their dinners when she remembered not having anything to eat – and none of her friends would be on it, now, would they?

Then she saw Kerr's little assistant's boyfriend posted about this concert tonight.

"That could liven up the evening nicely!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

How many years was it since I'd last heard that old expression about creative artists "searching for the dragon's blood"! How ironic to hear it from a former student of Rob Sullivan's? For a long time, that phrase had become a wedge between us, driving two old friends still further apart. Over the years, Rob and I had survived any variety of disparities, from childhood growing up in different worlds on into what passed for our maturity, the realization of our potentials.

I had assumed this to be the expected result of our natures, two contrasting personalities, one extroverted, one not, how the advantages of birth could push us along these different paths until we'd reach whatever goals we'd reached by whatever route we'd taken, then finding one successful, the other not.

While growing up, we never discussed money or its role in success since, given both our musical interests and abilities, we considered ourselves on equal footings, the result of training and talent: what accomplishments we would ever achieve were going to be the results of hard work and a little luck. We learned that Beethoven and Schubert might have become quite different composers if they hadn't struggled during their lives, while Mendelssohn's good fortune was not necessarily linked to his family's wealth.

It was on a chilly November day not long after I had started teaching and Rob had married Beatrice when we'd taken a walk around the pond behind his parents' house.

"It was hard work, composing," Rob complained, contending with his family's expectations and the requirements of his father's business.

"It is hard work," I'd said, "everything we do is hard work – your dad, my dad – nothing is easy. We're trying to understand the question hoping we'll find the right answer.

"Music is the perfect metaphor for life, isn't it, difficult to understand and difficult to achieve some elusive success. Everybody wants that magic pill to give them complete and instant understanding.

"Faust sells his soul to the devil; the rest,” I'd added, “after Siegfried, are searching for the dragon's blood!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

True to his word, despite the hour, Dieter – Dylan's chat-room friend who may or may not have been from Ravensburg – immediately contacted a chat-room friend of his he knew'd be up late who may or may not have been a musician playing at Schweinwald whose name most likely wasn't Harper Roytt. Regardless of anything remotely akin to reality, they were all connected by this network called the World Wide Web and if a friend could help a friend in need, they did.

Dylan went back inside for the second half to hear the Beethoven – maybe the music would help relax him. He's dwelling too much on Fictitia's comment and why she's not responding. There was nothing more he could do here but sit and wait – and hope Dieter's friend could help him.

Whatever persona Dieter presented to the world, Harper really was a musician, calling himself the Wizard of the Viola Section, a young man who really was as young as his profile indicated. And while other attributes weren't totally truthful, it didn't keep him from calling his friend in Schweinwald's security force.

This friend answered on the third ring.

"Why, Harper, what a surprise. Didn't expect to hear from you tonight."

Harper explained someone's friend was in trouble.

"Preston Agitato, at your service!"

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 42

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

The previous installment turns from wondering how music history might have changed had the fate befalling Hans Rott happened instead to Mahler to observing how Lionel Roth is dealing with the man he knew as Dhabbodhú but who is now calling himself Tr'iTone and how he is treating his newly arrived guests, Dr. Kerr and his assistant, Cameron Pierce. Leahy-Hu's stake-out, in the meantime, is not going well and concludes with some unwelcome news. N. Ron Steele contemplates some future SHMRG projects. 

= = = = = = =

Chapter 42

"Here," he snarled, tossing the tote-bag at the sniveling Roth, "take this! Might as well make yourself useful, my minion."

Lionel Roth was cowering in the corner like a scared little baby.

"Honestly, his weakness is enough to make me sick," Tr'iTone thought dismissively. "I couldn't find a better lab assistant...?"

He told him to go through these papers and see if there's anything worthwhile. "If there is," he said, "maybe you'll get a reward," a smile curling oddly around his lips.

Already disappointed in Dr. Kerr's unexpected arrival, he still didn't have the solution to the clues on the artifact and where was the journal that had cost him so much time? He had chased Sullivan's cousin all over the Festspielhaus with no luck, nearly getting himself killed in that explosion.

"Why can't these people keep up their end of a simple bargain," he complained, his glance sweeping around the room. "Isn't it the least they could do, since Sullivan's no longer around? All I'd asked was for Kerr to find the fountain for me: is that such a big, freakin' deal?"

The art he will create would, after all, enrich all their lives, the contract between the artist and society.

"When will people realize that geniuses like me require minions like them?"

He noticed Roth's eyes kept shifting nervously over to the laboratory table where Kerr's young assistant lay writhing half-naked, bouncing around to the rhythms and looping overlays created by Ravel's Bolero.

"Perhaps he disapproves," Tr'iTone sneered, since it didn't matter if he did. "What are critics against my superior accomplishments?"

Dealing with criticism was something for novices, for the weak-willed lacking confidence – "in fact, like Lionel, yes?" Tr'iTone chuckled – because, once attaining his level, he knew it was only pointless posturing.

Speaking of critics, it was time to pay Dr. Kerr another visit, to see if he'd reached any conclusions. He'd given him a more serious conk on the head than necessary. If he had a headache, it wouldn't help his clue-solving gray cells and that would set him back more.

"But everybody has their adversaries," he continued, walking over to Kerr's booth. "Simply by being successful, one automatically creates adversaries. Simply by making a decision, in fact, you invite people to disagree. For poets, it's finding the right rhythm; for authors, the perfect word; and painters, the right shade of red. I write the climax of a phrase on a pitch – say, 'G' – someone else says it should be F-sharp! If I'd wanted it to be 'F-sharp', I would've written an F-sharp!"

Several old-fashioned practice rooms hugged the walls, vestiges of a long-distant past, considering the dungeon already had built-in sound-proofing, designed to keep sound in, not out, less annoying to other students. Tr'iTone fed broadcast audio into Kerr's room because who could think in complete silence, easily distracted by stray thoughts.

Dr. Kerr, unfortunately, was being most unaccommodating, complaining about every little thing, typical of someone who's not a team player. A litany of unabashed negativity, it did little to engage Tr'iTone's empathy. The music – as beautiful as it was – did not let him concentrate, plus he needed deskspace, maybe a computer.

And how could he work with his hands tied to the chair, unable to hold or turn the statue?

"A poor craftsman blames his tools, doctor," Tr'iTone shouted. "One more hour!"

Annoyed by Old Kerr's uncooperativeness, Tr'iTone's mind raged – "How am I supposed to get any work done under these conditions?!" – as he stomped back to Cameron's table and checked the electrodes. Given the boy's reaction to the music, he could be in danger as bad responses only made things worse. Designed to take the body's physical responses from the enjoyment of music and turn them into further neurostatic impulses, the machine would not know when to cut off its own transmission.

If mice discovered they received pleasant sensations by controlling the flow of electrical current wired directly into the brain, Tr'iTone's apparatus by-passed the need to activate the lever delivering the stimulation. By using music piped into the brain, he found pulse, breathing and other involuntary reactions increased the initial response.

By programming blood pressure readings to affect tempo and pulse to create variables on other parameters like rhythm and dynamics, he found his interactive looping would keep the musical stimuli flowing perpetually. Using a piece of overly familiar music that annoyed a discerning listener could create an instrument of excruciating torture.

Tr'iTone yanked away the ear-buds and gradually turned down the music's volume, allowing Cameron's body to come to rest. His chest glistened with sweat, TriTone noticed; his eyes bulged with fear.

Cameron coughed violently and spat once Tr'iTone finally tore off the gag, hoping to get his breathing under control. He glared at the man in disbelief, trying desperately to shrink away.

"I told you, man, I don't have the journal," Cameron said, panting, "if it's not in the tote-bag, there..."

Tr'iTone looked over at Roth, sifting through a pile of loose pages. The man shrunk back, shrugging his shoulders. Then Tr'iTone banged his fists on the table until it almost cracked.

"The last time I saw it," Cameron said, "you'd just abducted LauraLynn. She'd been holding it. Where is she?"

"What...? I must know what the journal found," Tr'iTone bellowed. "Tell me!"

Slapping him across the mouth, Tr'iTone held up an old, brittle envelope.

"Perhaps this will help change your mind?"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

The wine we drink through the eyes in the moonlight's pale rays illuminates the crystal flask on the black washstand where a laundress washes out silk lingerie with drops of lingering blood. The mother of all sorrows, death-sick moon, hides from giant black moths, and I've alas unlearned to laugh! Pierrot!

Royal-red rubies, like bloody drops, become a gruesome communion by flickering candlelight, while the scrawny harlot awaits the gallows: the moon becomes a gleaming Turkish scimitar, and poets bleed in silence.

Sweet laments and crystal sighs, despite bald Cassander's air-rending screams, drill deep, her knitting needles in her graying hair. A whitish fleck of moonlight glistens on my shoulder, seeking love's adventure.

A giant bow scrapes across the viola, the moonbeam now my rudder – oh, ancient air from distant times, intoxicating!

With a start, Peter Moonbeam opened one eye, recognized he was still alive, then proceeded to open the other eye. He wondered where he was or what that dream had been about. He wasn't even sure where he was, lying there on the floor, nothing like the hotel room he remembered. The place had been trashed, sprays of bullet holes everywhere he looked. The furniture was riddled, and the walls. If this was his hotel room, he would be in big trouble.

But then, worst of all, he couldn't remember anything about the party. Surely, he didn't do this by himself? Had somebody broken in, ransacking the place? Who else had been here? He had some vague recollection of his getting ready to go out: no idea where or with whom.

"Weird..."

Forcing himself to get off the floor, Moonbeam noticed that even his laptop had been blasted into infinitesimal smithereens.

"Why would somebody break in and shoot my computer?" he wondered. "Weird..."

Struggling to adjust himself into some semblance of a largely upright position, Moonbeam pulled himself together, straightening his tie. He sensed discomfort in his left armpit: was he shot, after all?

No, he checked and sighed with relief. His arm had gone numb: only a crumpled washcloth cutting off circulation.

Opening the door with caution, Moonbeam looked up and down the hallway, seeing no sign of anyone in either direction. He made a dash for the elevator and pounded the down arrow.

"What luck," he muttered. It had arrived quickly and it was empty. He was in the lobby in seconds.

"Ah, Mr. Moonbeam," the night clerk said, waving at him. "Back already? Did you park your car around back?"

"Back? What d'you mean, 'back'?" Moonbeam, squinting in the light, looked around.

Trying not to appear confused, Moonbeam asked if his car was ready.

"Ready, sir? You'd left an hour ago."

"I did? I must've forgotten." This came as a surprise. "Hot date..."

"Are you okay, sir? You look pale." The night clerk sounded worried.

"That's okay," Moonbeam said, "I'm fine – F-I-N-E..."

If somebody had tried to kill him and then stole his car, things didn't sound fine at all, he thought. "Who was I dating, some suicide bomber?" His mind was completely blank. He wondered if he should call security when it occurred to him: "that hot babe's from security! Holy crap!"

What was her name? Kunegunde Something-or-other. But how could he report her? They must be after him for something.

Whatever it was, he had to hide.

"Damn," he thought, "where's Schreiber?"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

"No," she said, trying not to sound belligerent, "it wasn't me that was in danger back at the old castle: it was Cameron and that old professor guy he's with," she continued. "Cameron's this sweet young guy, you know? but I have no idea why either of them was out there."

The officer introduced herself as Kunegunde Nacht of the Schweinwald Security Force, wanting to make sure everything was okay.

"No, I'm sorry, but everything's not okay. I saw them go inside..."

Fictitia would never be comfortable around policemen – call it a cultural thing: you're supposed to run away from policemen – then make it a German woman who was a knock-out like Kunegunde... It seemed unnatural a woman like her should join the police force – Fictitia'd give anything for tits like that.

Since the bike might have been reported stolen, she didn't want to mention it was lying just beyond the headlights, and she also decided not to mention anything about Old Man Scarpia. If she'd known he'd been out there since earlier in the evening, would she get in trouble over that?

If Kunegunde was responding to her tweet about needing help at all, why wasn't she going to offer some? Maybe she shouldn't have been eager to mention she was Fictitia LaMouche.

The officer was more interested why she'd followed the professor out there, why a single young woman like herself was walking these back country roads in the middle of the night, and above all what difference was it to her if she had heard someone scream in a haunted castle?

Fictitia realized she couldn't mention having seen IMP agents arresting Cameron earlier, regardless of her assignment as a reporter. What would this have to do with her covering the festival's opening?

And if she knew about that hideous monster she'd seen running away from the explosion earlier at the Festspielhaus, why hadn't she reported that event, either, aside from having been kidnapped?

Oh yeah, kidnapped by the old professor whom she's now tracked down to a haunted castle in the woods?

So instead, she was being branded as uncooperative and considered a suspect, though she had no idea for what reason. Kunegunde's call to the security dispatcher didn't make her feel less uncomfortable. Now, they were headed in the opposite direction from the old castle and Cameron still needed to be rescued.

And the old professor, too, though he had masterminded her being kidnapped; and maybe Scarpia, the horny old goat. Cameron, only an accessory in her abduction, wasn't exactly hitting on her.

Rather than take her to the security trailer behind the opera house, Kunegunde shoved her along into the hotel through the back entrance and into an elevator to the top floor. How long would it take till this was over – or she'd escape – before she'd get back to the castle?

Farther down the hall, Kunegunde stopped to talk with another security guard – she thought the sign translated as 'Executive Suite' – but not one who looked like a Schweinwald cop, from the uniform.

"What's going on? Where're you taking me?"

None of this was going to help her deep-seated fear of police.

The door opened a little and a barely recognizable face peeked out.

"OMG," a high-pitched voice shrieked. "Fictitia LaBitch!"

Fictitia was stunned: Kunegunde delivered her to her old nemesis, Skripasha Scricci.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Leaving the hotel behind him, Moonbeam dashed (as much as any guy his size could dash) across to the Festspielhaus, even if, in the middle of the night, the place was empty. He could sneak in through the back: he'd heard about that hole the explosion ripped open in the wall.

Constantly glancing over his shoulder and skirting around past the temporary security trailer – lights on: someone was still there – he discovered the hole was secured only by some yellow caution tape.

Moonbeam hid himself behind a globe arborvitae and pulled out his phone, having missed a call from Armin Schrieber. With any luck, the guy might still be working in his cubicle.

Moonbeam saw the guard was sound asleep, slumped up against the wall. He pressed 'play' to hear Schreiber's message.

"Hello, Moonbeam? You'll never guess..." There was a pause. "Hello? Who's there...!" Peter could hear white noise in the background. Did he think there was somebody else in the office with him?

After another pause, Schreiber whispered, "Look, I can't believe you missed this, but this is really amazing." Another pause.

"Huh... well, in that interview with Sullivan when you'd left the room? Sullivan actually said how the opera would..."

He was cut off by loud machine-gun fire and some breaking glass.

During the long, intense silence that followed, Moonbeam found he couldn't breath. Then he heard another voice, deeper and raspy.

"Where's there a hand towel when you need one...?" it snarled. "Hah...!"

With that, the line had gone dead.

Before Moonbeam realized, he was deep in the basement of the Festspielhaus.

What was it Sullivan said – was it about the opera's new ending? Was it possible he'd already finished it? If he had, why is everyone saying how the opera is incomplete?

And whatever the implications were, did someone kill him because of it?

"Schreiber's been killed... someone's tried killing me..."

Was that a footstep?

"Maybe the killer...!"

This door's ajar!

"What luck!"

Peter Moonbeam ducked into a darkened room and pulled the door shut.

"How long will I have to wait?"

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 41

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, LauraLynn is confused between who's abducted her and who might be her cousin's killer. As Fictitia escapes from the old castle and seems to be rescued, contact is made between Garth Widor and Dr. Kerr's captor, ready to strike a deal. Meanwhile, in New York, Klavdia Klangfarben, disguised as the old Countess von Falkenstein, recalls how she'd stolen Cameron's letter and the impromptu celebration she had with Dhabbodhú before he left for Germany.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 41

Whatever the family had assumed Harrison Harty's journal was – or might be – it was definitely more than a childhood fantasy, nothing to be dismissed because it was partly written in secret code. Starting so matter-of-factly, anyone who looked at it would assume it's a souvenir of a summer holiday, nothing more. Apparently, no one bothered with the code nor worked past its appearance, assuming the rest would be no different. Whatever his reasons for making the switch, was it worth the effort?

Yet we'd managed to discover, before we'd even gotten about halfway through, that it was a unique, first-hand account of a pivotal time in the life of the composer Gustav Mahler, one of the leading voices at the end of the 19th Century and a major influence on the 20th.

For Mahler scholars who long had little biographical information to go on about the young man's life or musical coming-of-age, there could be priceless insights or at least a few 'charming anecdotes.' Anything included in these curious, coded pages that were found nowhere else could make Harty's summer journal incredibly valuable.

It was tantalizing to contemplate why Harty, himself still an impressionable teenager, felt compelled to finish it in code. But any reasonable musicologist needed to resist such premature if enticing speculation.

Mahler was a gifted if unpromising student in Vienna during his late-teens, never a prodigy like Mozart or Mendelssohn, exhibiting only modest talent as a child with nothing greatly hinted at. In fact, by the time he was 19, he had yet to complete a single composition beyond some songs. By 19, Mozart composed his violin concertos and Schubert his 5th Symphony, not like they're mature works, but still... Mendelssohn would've already composed his Octet and the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture.

Mahler turned 20 only days before he and Rott arrived at Schweinwald, fresh from his first professional conducting gig, rolling out operettas for the guests at Hall, a small Austrian resort. Returning to Vienna in August, he finally finished his first major work, the cantata Das klagende Lied, that October.

There's so little information about Mahler's friend and fellow student, Hans Rott, anything – especially any first-hand observations by his friends – would augment the material considerably, for which all scholars would be grateful. Rott's life was overshadowed by his tragedy but there was very little else he left behind, dead at 26. Rott was 20 when he'd completed his Symphony in E in 1878, bearing the stamp of his teacher Bruckner, yet surprisingly much of it sounds like Mahler writing a decade later.

Didn't Mahler once tell a friend of his that he and Rott were “two fruits from the same tree,” how they could've done “great things together in their new musical epoch”? What “common earth and air” had they breathed during that Schweinwald summer when both had shared such promising futures?

Imagine how the life of Gustav Mahler – who eventually fell in love with and married Alma Schindler, a budding composer – might have changed had he developed an early relationship with Ethel Smyth, though one doubts whether she would have accepted him at any time even if he'd been attracted to her.

What might have changed in Harrison Harty's life if Mahler the conductor had gone on to champion his music? Had they bothered to keep in touch after their summer at Schweinwald?

And what of Johannes Brahms, though there is probably little that is unknown about the last of the Three Bs: he'd taken a few weeks off during his summer holiday in 1880 to visit a once famous music school, yet nobody seems to know anything about the time he spent there. We know he once fell asleep listening to Liszt playing his sonata, but Liszt played at Schweinwald that summer: what had Brahms thought, hearing Liszt's latest music, this "music without tonality"?

It's not that we need to know everything about a composer's life, the daily routine of geniuses made mortal – what he had for breakfast on the day he wrote his Lullaby – but there is something to be said for realizing they're flesh-and-blood composers rather than these ubiquitously reverenced marble busts.

This was the same summer Brahms completed his two piano rhapsodies, Op.79, and began writing his Tragic and Academic Overtures. A friend's death in January inspired that summer's transcendent choral work, Nänie. We know he completed two piano trios, written mostly during that summer: one in C and another in E-flat.

Brahms published only the C Major Trio even though Clara Schumann preferred the other: yet he destroyed that one. Did he accidentally leave a copy behind the week he visited Schweinwald?

It's generally assumed that Brahms, not quite 30 years older than Mahler, didn't meet him until late in 1890, when friends dragged him to hear Mahler conduct Don Giovanni in Budapest. While they never became friends, Brahms thoroughly admired Mahler as a conductor, helping him get the job in Vienna.

But if Brahms and Mahler had met ten years earlier at Schweinwald, had some difficult situation happened between them? Was Mahler too young to impress him? Was Brahms already too old?

A not-yet 20-year-old conductor wanted to look older and grew a beard, hoping it would earn him some respect. He had no experience as a conductor, so every little bit counted.

That summer, Brahms, turning 47, grew his third attempt at a beard. For him, it would become a mask.

There was something else about the information Harty's journal might provide us, considering the intersection of Brahms' and Rott's lives, a well-known collision that happened shortly after their both being at Schweinwald. Brahms wasn't one to suffer dilettantes gladly, even those approaching as fans, his brusque, often crude behavior well documented. As the famous Dr. Brahms, recognized already as one of the Great Masters, he was no doubt frequently besieged by adoring fans who wanted him to hear them play his music. And people who fancied themselves as composers, hoping to find an endorsement, pestered him to look at their music, and offer a few kind words to a publisher or famous performer, hoping he'd remember what it was like, at 20, to stand on the doorstep of Schumann's house in Düsseldorf.

The devastating interview with Hans Rott took place on September 17th, 1880, not long after being at Schweinwald that July. Was Brahms there as a guest lecturer who was giving master classes? What had happened between them that summer which may have set the mid-September meeting on such a tragic course? Brahms' apparent savagery in attacking Rott's Symphony in E was clearly devastating, given the interview's eventual and unfortunate outcome, but what do we know of Brahms' side of this whole story?

Perhaps Brahms remembered his mentor Schumann's claim, hailing him as Beethoven's heir, and the pressure it placed on him, everything he created being judged a masterpiece worthy of this Great Giant. Was Brahms offended by this brash youngster who lacked the necessary courage to wait before producing his first symphony? As we know, the year before, Brahms told a young Hugo Wolf, another who lived on a delicate balance, "First, you must learn something, then see if you have any talent."

But what if young Hans Rott, with the impetuous confidence of youth, insisted he'd already created a symphonic masterpiece? Did it need to "go back in the oven" for more work? What 22-year-old would agree with the advice "then simmer for twenty years before releasing it" as Brahms had done?

Even if Brahms were a slow composer – more like pains-taking and methodical – it wasn't his First Symphony's being so long that it took him over twenty years before he could complete it. He didn't care to write a dozen apprentice symphonies, learning by doing, which would easily be dismissed and forgotten.

Why could these young people not wait to learn the necessary wisdom, absorb everything until it gestated into genius? People are so impatient, he must've thought: it had worked for him.

Instead, a month later, Hans Rott boarded a train heading for Mulhausen and a rancid little choral conducting job. He should've done better, thinking Brahms could've done something to help him.

A passenger beside him pulled out a cigar, ready to light it. Then Hans Rott pulled out a pistol.

Waving the pistol at him, Rott warned him not to light up. It seems Brahms was intent on killing him. He'd had the train loaded with dynamite. The explosion would kill everyone.

They took Rott back to Vienna where, placed in a mental asylum, he would die, forgotten, four years later.

Did Brahms remember Schumann then? Perhaps that's why he attended Rott's funeral. Did it have any impact on him?

What had happened at Schweinwald?

What if that had been Mahler, instead?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Lionel Roth continued to lurk in the corners of Castle Schweinwald's dungeon, losing what confidence he'd gained wandering those passageways after having seen Dr. Dhabbodhú secure Kerr's young companion to that table. This seemed rather extreme in conducting an interview for a new client though Dhabbodhú clearly had his sadistic side. Certainly he'd been very helpful with Lionel, giving him such friendly advice, but this struck him more like punishment and Lionel was glad Dhabbodhú never felt he'd needed anything like this. Roth recalled his own intolerance for pain, a threshold notoriously quite low, and watched poor Cameron with increasing anxiety, 'pain' being No. 7 on the list of his Fifty Basic Fears. He needed to rethink what he's witnessing to avoid 'distrust,' often the result of other fears on his list.

He remembered one friend, a pianist named Natasha – patients only went by their first names at the Happy Mountain Sanatorium – who loved to do bad things hoping to get the electro-shock treatment. Though still in her thirties, her graying hair was streaked with white, her eyes looking either distant or possessed. Her dream was to hook electrical current up to her piano bench so if she started going too fast, she'd receive a quick jolt but that'd only make her play faster.

Dhabbodhú hadn't said anything about other clients joining them at the castle but Roth looked forward to some company. Even though he'd just arrived, it felt like such a lonely place. It's true it was quite literally out in the middle of nowhere, like having a sanatorium all to himself.

Dr. Kerr, the older guy he'd led through the dark secret passageways, had mumbled about rescuing Cameron and escaping, so it's clear he's dealing with some persecution issues and paranoia himself.

But what the boy's problems were, he hadn't really observed very much, since they'd only walked in the door. Maybe he also had some separation anxieties, things Roth dealt with regularly.

He knew Dhabbodhú was like a therapist used to making quick diagnoses: the boy was in very good hands.

Dr. Dhabbodhú had tossed Lionel the tote-bag, snarling about making himself useful as he stomped off to the sound-proofed booth, how there'd be a reward, he said, if he found anything worthwhile. Riffling through a handful of loose pages, Roth saw nothing of interest, only some hand-scribbled notes, and felt disappointed. He always loved it when Dhabbodhú played the Mad Scientist with him, one of their many little mock-therapist games, because being useful made him feel appreciated and that helped his self-esteem.

But the stuff in Kerr's tote-bag didn't make any sense to him, afraid the Doctor would think he'd failed. There certainly wasn't anything like that journal Dhabbodhú was eager to find. Whatever it was he was hoping for, was there the possibility that Kerr dropped it back in the passageway?

Roth sorted everything out on another table, wishing he had better light, difficult to read even with his exceptional eyesight (nothing he would bother calling a talent, just something other people lacked). Dhabbodhú's amber lighting, gradually mixing with green, may have been mood enhancing but Roth was finding it wildly impractical.

He also noticed this music was becoming more interesting as it progressed, subtly complex and contrapuntal, different layers overlapping. Once static and mindlessly numbing, it now showed signs of new directions.

When Dhabbodhú came back from the sound-proof booth, he turned some dials down until Cameron's writhing slowed to a stop, removed the ear-buds then examined his eyes which were bulging with fear. Though Roth knew there was nothing the boy should be afraid of, he understood why he looked so terrified. Whenever the Doctor was in this mood, his bedside manner became gruff, clinically impersonal and a little too threatening. It was just that everything Cameron's experiencing was so new and sudden.

It was times like this that Roth wished people wouldn't wait till it was too late to seek help, when urgent situations became emergencies almost always requiring such drastically violent responses. It didn't help, he imagined, to be stripped to his briefs then tossed on a cold, stone table, either.

No doubt Dhabbodhú's appearance wasn't much of a comfort, either, Roth imagined, caught unexpected in the middle of the night without any chance to go get dressed in a more professional manner. Standing there nearly naked may seem immodest to a man like Roth and most likely Cameron shared his discomfort.

But if they had waited till morning, who knew what damage might have been caused by such a delay? At least Dhabbodhú was professional enough to help unexpected guests in need.

And Roth himself had had deep reservations about Dhabbodhú's appearance and mannerisms when he'd first seen him from the passageway, spying on him in secret during his private time like the paparazzi. What a man did to amuse himself was no one's business, really, and Roth shouldn't hold that against him.

Besides, Dhabbodhú had long ago explained the importance of how role-playing games helped to maintain a healthy creative balance. Undoubtedly, the character he'd been playing earlier was another of these identities.

Now it seemed Dhabbodhú had moved on to another stage of consultation, their conversation becoming quieter and more intense. But it was rapidly escalating into more of a confrontation, Roth noticed.

Suddenly, Dhabbodhú slapped Cameron across the face which Roth thought pretty extreme. He had to remember who's the master.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

It reminded her – sitting around doing nothing for what seemed an endless amount of time – of that day in school when her 10th grade Latin teacher, Miss Erabilis, decided to punish everybody by making them sit still for the last fifteen minutes of class (she'd forgotten what the original infraction was), warning them anyone breaking the silence would bring down even worse punishment (was it doubling the amount of homework?) which of course made everyone even more fidgety after only five minutes. But Yoda Leahy-Hu, diminutive and already inscrutable, sat motionless the whole time, oblivious to the tensions in the classroom and to the teacher who waited for the one person who'd snap, the teacher who prodded anyone dozing off, forcing them to sit upright and, with their eyes open, look forward.

For any teenager this was unnatural behavior, the equivalent of corporal punishment which should have been banned by the constitution: the more often they complained about it, the more often it happened. Taking it to the principal, he'd said, "if you don't want punished, then don't do anything to provoke her." And no matter how often this happened (these were clearly different times), Leahy-Hu never cracked and broke the silence, but this only made the teacher hate the poor girl even more.

Everyone else assumed Little Yoda had managed to master this secret art because she was part-Chinese and studied meditation even though Zen or yoga had little place in her family's lifestyle. If anything, it was the art of concentration learned from hours spent listening to music and practicing her instrument. Her father, Kammanuanna Leahy, played in the Honolulu Symphony, the son of a Vermont-born musicologist and a Hawaiian woman. Her mother was Dr. Annie Hu, a Chinese-American pediatrician and amateur musician.

Afraid her daughter might never grow tall enough for a full-size cello, her mother suggested taking up the trumpet which sometimes required doing nothing while silently counting hundreds of measures' rest. She would motionlessly play through whole symphonies' trumpet parts in her mind, counting out every single measure of silence.

Looking back, she admitted never learning much Latin in Miss Erabilis' class, but what she called "exercises in static punishment" would help her immensely in her chosen career much more than Latin, since it was impossible to convince any normal fifteen-year-old that Latin could have any relevance in their modern-day lives. But young Yoda knew her friends thought the same about classical music which she'd come to love so much, giving her life rich meaning even when she counted all those rests.

She never complained about Miss Erabilis' punishments nor gave the woman cause to inflict anything specifically because of her, considering she knew how her fellow students groaned whenever some infraction occurred. If anything, Yoda always found herself looking forward to these periodic ordeals, always more enjoyable than the actual class.

This skill came in handy in other aspects of life, she discovered, not just during long boring lectures in college or visits from overly talkative relatives who had nothing interesting to say, but especially during those interminable staff meetings that were to become such an exasperating part of her professional career.

The trick, of course, was to look like you were paying attention, then snapping out of it so effortlessly, like any musician entering right on cue, nobody was ever the wiser.

For the agents, the hour spent in Ottobeuren's Ritterplatz waiting for Sullivan's alleged killer was regarded as an absolute failure, even if anyone thought the probability he'd show up was already unlikely, that he'd trade Ms. Harty if they agreed to cancel Sullivan's opera, that he'd allow himself to be caught. Some of them had become so thoroughly bored by the second half-hour, several swore they saw the knight's statue occasionally stretch his back, flex his sword, then impatiently check his watch.

Aside from the one agent who'd managed to fall asleep standing up and nearly fell from her rooftop position, or the dog who wandered through, lifting his leg against Leahy-Hu's foot, there was so little excitement Det. Ketchum and Dispatcher Aida Lott considered going through the list of headsets again.

The IMP's Special Forces Director Yoda Leahy-Hu, working her way through trumpet parts for two substantial Haydn symphonies, rests included, was neither surprised nor disappointed by the outcome of the failed stake-out. For her, Haydn was like "soul music," so any time spent with Haydn was never a waste of time.

To her agents, outwardly, she would remain stoical and above all philosophical but inwardly she couldn't wait to get her hands on that idiot of a professor who'd stuck them here.

As she and her team prepared to suspend the stake-out, Leahy-Hu received an urgent call from her dispatcher, Aida Lott, who'd just received word about a helicopter recently landing at the hotel.

"It's now confirmed that SHMRG CEO N. Ron Steele was on it."

"Well, crap, Agent Lott, that's not good."

She no sooner hung up from giving Lott a barrage of instructions when her phone started to buzz again. About halfway to the van, Leahy-Hu snarled, "This better be good news."

"Director – Agent Voo, here" she said. "Dr. Kerr is on the move."

"Damn it, Voo" Leahy-Hu cursed, "not again..."

"It appears he's stolen a car from in front of the hotel."

"Can you identify the car?"

"Yes," Agent Voo said, "Dr. Richard Kerr."

Clearly, there was no time to lose.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

N. Ron Steele knew, like any successful corporation – careful to use the affluent-sounding term 'corporation,' not the generically plebeian 'company' – it was a matter of constantly adapting, a matter of simple economics, even if for no other reason than to appear alive and well, making each new step worth the risk. Since his company now had billions of dollars lying around which couldn't just sit there in his Cayman accounts, he decided it was time to expand his Mergers & Acquisitions department. Under the man he'll name as its newly appointed chairman, Basil Carsonoma, he could see new profits rolling in, buying up artist agencies and recording companies, then destroying those less competitive which will drive down the competition and rake in even more profits, their executive bonuses surging through the roof.

One of Carsonoma's plans involved a social media network called 'Songbook' where you can 'sing' about your favorites bands' songs, tell your friends what concerts you're attending and create your 'fantasy playlists.' Maybe they're selling nothing but word-of-mouth advertising, but any information they harvest about their users could sell for millions. Of course, he always told his artists, all this would trickle down and eventually increase their profits and careers, though it was difficult not to laugh whenever he told that joke.

With over half of SHMRG's billions now gaining interest in overseas accounts, the result of recent expansions in Europe, profits that couldn't return to the USA without their being egregiously taxed, Steele decided it was time for them to expand their European branches and start inroads into the Asian market. Until the regime change occurred at home, despite Wall Street's preemptive strike, he would have to wait for a huge tax holiday from Congress before using any of these profits state-side.

The question was what projects with only limited risks could they initiate and which companies could they buy up? This was the real reason Steele found himself traveling across Europe today. Meanwhile, his plan – leveraging the Schweinwald Festival, once they canceled Sullivan's premiere – was just another step toward world domination.

While the future belonged primarily to the internet – "and," Steele thought, "they said television was the death of the intellect" – Steele understood there were still millions to be made in concert promotions, even to a considerably more limited extent in the classical music niche which had long been an elitist brand. The key to corporate success was to give people what they wanted, whatever was popular, not what was good, since 95% wouldn't know the difference anyway – "and the rest, who cared?"

All you had to do was look at the American food industry and the nation's increasing rate of obesity. Steele argued, "What was so difficult to understand about that simple principle?" It was the American way of life in every aspect of life: thanks to globalization, now the universal life.

At least Scricci's MP3 Project, foisting child prodigies on the world-wide audience, was a better risk than Manfred Kaye's plan, something about killing off the already dead great composers of the past. Honestly, how had the man ever come up with such an idea? Even corporate laughing stocks can fall precipitously.

"Sure, it's a shark-eat-shark world in today's Darwinian economy and that shark just didn't fly," as Steele put it. "Too bad he jumped off that ledge but Kaye loved old-fashioned theatrics."

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To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014