Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 24

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, Garth Widor discovers he has accidentally recorded a SHMRG board meeting. As Security Dispatcher Preston Agitato tracks down Widor's stolen van and the whereabouts of reporter Fictitia LaMouche, Skripasha Scricci wants the bitch eliminated. Once Cameron decides to toss the stolen van's GPS unit onto a truck heading in the opposite direction, Agitato then realizes the van seems to be heading north while Fictitia is now heading south.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 24

We were now southbound on the B-23, eventually taking us to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and, one way or another, our next destination, a bit unsettling not knowing who we’re meeting or what we’d find. Cameron, who confessed he watched too many high-tech police shows on television, worried if anyone could track LauraLynn’s phone. The question was, did Schweinwald security have access to such sophisticated technology? It would seem, on the whole, doubtful. The IMP, however, was an unknown quantity with who knew what resources.

Clearly the murderer – that is, the guy we alleged was Rob’s murderer – had access to LauraLynn’s private phone number but if he had stolen Rob’s phone, that much would be understandable. But beyond that, could he gain access to her phone’s GPS system to monitor her whereabouts, pin-pointing her location?

After some discussion, we chose not to respond to the killer’s text afraid to activate some connection between their phones, and LauraLynn shut her phone off, tucking it away in her purse. Fidgeting for lack of anything that would help us occupy the time, once again she pulled out the artifact.

“This music that’s written along the length of the spine,” she said, running down the back with her finger, “doesn’t look like any piece of music I can make sense of.”

Looking for something to do, I’d carefully taken out the old journal before I admitted basically the same thing, dealing with page after page of code, all of it written backwards, like some kind of mirror writing, all capitals, with perfectly straight margins, then superimposing some kind of substitution code.

“That’s easy,” LauraLynn said, “Heidi told me,” turning back to the first page where it suddenly turned into gibberish. “She said it’s probably a substitution code using the alphabet in retrograde.”

Suddenly, she raised her hand to her mouth after a sharp gasp. “Oh, my God, poor Heidi!” she sighed. “Here, I’ve completely forgotten all about her – I wonder if she’s okay...”

The last she’d seen her was right before that monster showed up, she explained as she sat back, sobbing.

Forging ahead, hoping it might take her mind off an unfortunate situation, I read over these last words in English, from the bottom of the one page before turning to the next, a passage concerning some argument “holding a mirror to Brahms and Mahler” before switching over the page-turn to code.

Grabbing a pen and paper then reading backwards from the inside margin, I quickly jotted down

WGXQLF XKU LXQMTG.”

Then underneath it, writing it out as LauraLynn watched,

BRAHMS AND MAHLER

“See, Brahms and Mahler are both six-letter names,” I showed her, “and both include letters AH, M and R. The two names in code contain the letters XQ, L and G. That means B becomes W in the code, and AH becomes XQ – M and R become L and G.”

So after I wrote out the complete alphabet in a single line, placing letters from the code underneath their equivalents, I soon realized, considering A=X, it was the alphabet in retrograde.

“Easy!”

With the help of my little cheat-sheet, I was slowly able to translate the first sentence into plausible English:

...that I should proceed cautiously, holding a mirror to Brahms and Mahler before finding myself reflected in its circumstances: if in fact Gutknaben had been murdered, was I also in danger?

There was a bit of a stunned silence after we realized this was not, as everyone imagined, a holiday journal, an account of Harrison Harty’s summer studying at a once-prestigious music school.

Generations of Hartys had assumed all this code was some childhood conceit, like a secret club allowing no admittance. Even if we had read it that summer long ago in Maine, hiding up in the attic with Rob, it might have seemed no more than a student’s tale of adventure.

Frankly, if I'd read it only a month ago, I would've assumed it was the product of his imagination, a young man caught up in a strange place without any friends. But now, given our own recent experiences, I questioned the convenient theory it was only an attempt at fiction.

If in fact old Great-Grandpa Harry had suddenly found himself in danger, wouldn’t this change the family’s impression of him? If he was just telling a story, why write it in code? What was this talk of murder about: what did this Gutknaben know and why was it worth killing for?

Having stumbled ourselves into something by accident, something putting us in danger, I thought each of us could relate, asking the same questions and wondering if our quest wasn’t somehow connected?

“You think the killer’s after the journal because it contains some information about whatever Great-Grandpa Harry had become involved in?” LauraLynn sounded less skeptical than she might have a few hours ago.

“Guys,” Cameron said, apologizing for the interruption, “but we’re approaching the switchback that guy, Rob's friend, warned us about?”

“If Rob had been killed because of something he knew,” I suggested, thinking of any possible motives we’d considered, “maybe now the killer’s going after us, thinking we know it, too.”

I closed the journal, putting it away, apologizing that I was getting motion sickness, if nerves weren’t bad enough, reading in a car something that often bothered me ever since childhood.

“Fasten your seatbelts,” Cameron warned us, “it’s going to be a bumpy ride. No,” he added, “I mean literally.”

While I was busy, we had been driving down an Alpine valley, passing through Oberammergau with its beautifully hand-painted homes, a quaint village that under normal circumstances I would love to explore. I wondered if the Passion Playhouse would be visible from the road but ended up forgetting all about it.

There were warning signs full of curvy lines indicated a steep switchback made more dangerous by a recent rock-slide, probably within the past half-hour, considering the men swarming over the road.

One of them stepped forward, a big burly guy with a beard, flagging us down for a friendly warning, saying the road was open but littered with smaller rocks and debris.

“Ja,” he laughed, nodding vigorously, then pointing toward the first sharp turn, “so don’t go speeding, it’s no raceway.”

While others finished pushing one last large rock out of the way, he asked us politely where we were headed. Perhaps he figured he had to make pleasant conversation with the tourists.

“Garmisch,” Cameron started before I joined in, saying we’d need to find a hotel if it wasn’t too late.

“Late?” He started laughing again. “In Garmisch, it is never late, ja?”

“Well, that’s good to know,” I said.

“Ah, here, now they’re done: go ahead,” he said, “but be careful.”

Careful sounded like a pretty good idea as the man slapped his hand across the back of the van. Pretty soon, I lost track how many of these turns we made. Each time, whatever was rolling around in the back of the van kept hitting one side, then the other.

Eventually we made it down into the valley and through the tunnel and called the number Drummoyne gave me. Relieved to hear from us, the man gave us the last directions.

Through Garmish and along the Loisach River, we found the various Pfeifferings and the road leading up the mountain. Leverkühnweg also made several winding turns, twisting up through ominously dark pines.

“Chalet,” I said, looking up somewhat stupefied. “It’s more like a fortress!”

“Yeah, right out of the Middle Ages…”

Even in the shadows of the moonlight, it was an imposing edifice, a pile of dark stones, gates and turrets that rose up out of the rocks once you reached the peak. The place, admittedly, gave me the creeps, thinking about writing music, here. Was there a dungeon in the basement?

To live in your very own castle, isolated on an alpine mountaintop: who wouldn’t want to be left undisturbed? But I had to ask, standing there in awe, for what purpose?

Perhaps he’s the big boss, the Maestro, and D’Arcy is his minion. Perhaps he controls Dhabbodhú and the IMP. And yet, here we are, delivering the secret into his very hands.

We could stroll through these doors and never be heard from again, walking right into a carefully laid trap.

“Hello?” I called out, unable to find a doorbell in the shadows.

“Ah, good, you’re here already… hold on, uhm…”

A familiar pale, egg-shell voice must be coming from some unseen intercom.

Slowly the heavy wooden gate creaked open and there was the familiar face of the soon-to-be centenarian, Howard Zenn.

“You’d better hurry: we haven’t much time,” he said, letting us in.

I assumed the obvious, given his age.

“I'd been thinking about going downtown to the bars,” he continued, smiling.

= = = = = = =
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, December 15, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 23

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, IMP Special Forces Director Leahy-Hu has begun her interrogation of V.C. D'Arcy and proceeds to show him something, asking him if he recognizes anyone in a video stored on an old phone. Meanwhile, at the old castle, Tr'iTone has eliminated one intruder, Schweinwald Board President Barry Scarpia, but is concerned about the delays if, tonight, he is to become Beethoven's Heir.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 23

The monthly board meeting had long been scheduled for SHMRG’s London headquarters well before the regrettable demise of Robertson Sullivan, Garth Widor arriving in the UK the day after that unfortunate event, but N. Ron Steele, typically punctual, preferred having everything neat and tidy: very little was ever left to chance. Everyone gathered in their corporate inner sanctum, unconcerned at hearing the news since he wasn’t, technically, one of “theirs,” which didn’t mean, however, such news might not appear on their agenda.

The room, spacious and grand as if other people might see their accommodations and would need to be impressed, was a masterpiece of ostentation, huge floral arrangements on the fireplace mantel, and a vast table artfully crafted from the trunk of a single tree of some exotic, nearly extinct species.

They started by going around the table to cover the usual business, starting with Holly Burton’s reading of the minutes from their last meeting held in New York over a month ago. Without comment, Steele moved on directly to the matter of new business, introducing two on-going projects involving their guests.

Barry Scarpia, also the recently elected Board President at the Schweinwald Festival, introduced agents Kunegunde Nacht and Heller Rache, long-time SHMRG operatives recently hired to infiltrate Schweinwald’s understaffed Festival Security Force.

Widor was uncomfortable in what he considered these formal situations, constantly fidgeting. A man who worked with his hands, he kept quietly toying with his cell-phone to keep his nerves calm.

“Mr. Widor,” Amanda Hackett chirped, “I hope you’re not tweeting the meeting?”

They laughed as Widor, rather uncharacteristically, blushed.

The mere mention of tweeting was enough to make Scricci’s skin crawl, retrieving unfortunate associations with landing in prison. To this day, he could barely keep himself under control using Facebook.

For the rest of the board members’ benefit, Hackett introduced Skripasha Scricci, the new director for the MP³ Project, without any mention of his recent release from prison on drug charges. He politely nodded around the table in response to these brief comments, followed by a polite round of congratulations.

Officially called “Marketing Prodigies Making Performance Music Popular,” the MP³ Project, he explained, would identify and train flashy young virtuosos then push them on orchestras as the much anticipated Next Big Thing, convincing managements they couldn’t succeed without them on their under-performing subscription series in their quest to increase ticket sales.

Considering these prodigies were likely to burn out before they were 18, there would always be fresh new talent ready to appease an audience quick to grow tired of familiar faces.

It had, after all, happened to him, washed up at 19 before reinventing himself as a cross-over “rock goddess” before that unfortunate business with a stalker who tweeted those compromising photos.

Looking at it that way, MP³ wasn’t very different from dealing drugs – more practical experience he could point to.

Rumor had it his time in the criminal justice system had been greatly reduced by SHMRG’s lawyers on some technicality to a mere three months despite the severity of the accumulated charges. If those damning photographs hadn’t been posted almost instantly on-line, no one would have ever known what was happening.

At first, Scricci figured it had been that new courier getting caught, running off with all of the evidence. But if he ever caught that reporter posting those photos – look out…

Barry Scarpia had been a reliable, hard-working board member in good standing for most of the past decade at SHMRG, his initial reputation for relentlessly pursuing the Big Picture issues still intact, doubtless better than any of the younger, usually less experienced board members who might be distracted by short-term gains. Widor knew no one on the board was more loyal than Scarpia with his feudal dedication to the cause though, realistically, he also knew such loyalty was traditionally not above suspicion.

He certainly appreciated Scarpia with his reputation for being a smooth operator, how it sometimes got in his way, especially when it came to his unfortunately well-documented weakness for younger women. Still, few on this board could arrange for the “neutralization” of opposition as effortlessly as Scarpia made them disappear.

Garth Widor felt uncomfortable, glancing around the room, bored with the proceedings, and wondered how these new phone apps worked, reminiscing how he’d been with Steele longer than any of these guys. First, he’d been some kind of family handyman, good at picking locks, then a combination childhood nanny and bodyguard. He had always been close to Ronny – “Mr. Steele,” he corrected himself, “even when he called me Ms. Poppins” – as close as one could ever get to so heartless a child.

Scarpia drew him out of his reverie with a slightly impatient cough. It was clear he’d been caught daydreaming. With a cautiously raised eyebrow, Scarpia asked if his report was ready.

Widor looked up, stopped fidgeting and put the phone down beside him, taking a deep breath before he began.

He explained an opponent had successfully been taken out, his data compromised and a sought-after object likewise successfully retrieved. Given the regrettable failure of its impact, he would implement Phase 2.

“And this was all done according to plan,” Scarpia, his supervisor, asked.

Widor took another deep breath. “It was.”

Picking up his phone, Widor checked it as Steele suggested moving along.

“Crap,” he realized, slipping it into his pocket as surreptitiously as possible, “I think the damn thing was recording…”

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

It was bad enough Widor’s van was stolen out from under him, he'd been delayed in reporting it because he’d “misplaced” his recently replaced phone which he assumed was in his van and – can he get any more incompetent? – he was having trouble finding Agitato’s secure line in his back-up mobile.

Whatever happened to Ms. Harty, Agitato needed to eavesdrop on the IMP, find out if they knew her whereabouts: Agitato realized he cannot risk allowing them the opportunity to rescue her.

In the midst of everything else, now, Agitato had to divert two trusted SHMRG agents from Operation Eternal Feminine because he also couldn’t risk turning this over to Schweinwald Festival Security. However Scarpia’s latest stalking victim was involved – much less wherever he was – he didn’t want to alert local police.

Kunegunde Nacht could barely conceal her amusement as Agitato tried to explain Widor’s immediate plight about his various stolen items, and how he required her and Rache to drop the Eternal Feminine to retrieve the van, its contents intact, so Widor could finish planting all the necessary bombs for Operation Hell-Trap.

By the time Agitato sent the necessary codes to their own phones, Rache commandeered one of the Festspielhaus cruisers.

Agitato no sooner hung up from her than his phone rang again.

Beginning in the middle of a sentence, as if expecting Agitato to immediately recognize him, instantly following his thoughts, the voice went from incoherence to – considering it’s a private SHMRG line – minor confusion, Agitato sorting it out when the guy mentioned on-line photos, the ones that helped put him away.

Scricci explained tracking down Fictitia’s twitter account, reading one posted from Schweinwald about needing help, how she’s been kidnapped.

Then that means, Agitato realized, Fictitia wasn’t the one stealing the van.

Agitato was trying to figure out if LauraLynn Harty stole the van and why she’d kidnap an on-line journalist while Scricci, growling into the phone, did his best to sound authoritative.

“I want that bitch eliminated, Agitato, okay?”

“Which bitch is that, Scricci?”

“What other bitch is there?” he screamed.

Agitato noticed Lott and Martineau were already coming back from their break, so he minimized several windows on his computer.

“Maybe they’ll think I was checking out porn sites,” he told himself.

After hanging up from listening to Scricci, he wanted to call Nacht but that would have to wait, now.

He’d figured Widor’s wayward van should have about a thirty-five mile lead depending on whether Fictitia made any stops. A security cruiser, lights flashing, would make good time on the Autobahn.

Aida Lott had indeed noticed Agitato closing windows and pocketing a phone and found it suspicious given the timing, but she didn’t think on-line phone sex was what grabbed his attention. She had caught the tail end of his conversation about “some bitch” and figured she’d keep her ears open.

Later, Martineau got the call from back-stage: the final bows were underway, no further incidents to be reported from there. Lott alerted her agents to stand by once the theater began emptying.

Officer Nacht called Agitato on Schweinwald's radio frequency and said their perp was preparing to exit onto the B-17.

“Roger, that.”

So where were they headed? North took them to Augsburg and also to a connection toward Munich. South took them toward King Ludwig’s castles and, ultimately, the Austrian border.

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

“What do you mean, it’s Rob’s killer! How did he get my phone number?” LauraLynn sounded both incredulous and frightened.

We worked our way through the food Cameron got at the restaurant.

Reminding her about the texts from Rob’s phone shortly after we arrived, I was sure the killer was Dhabbodhú.

“Right, the guy from the Benninghurst dinner,” LauraLynn acknowledged, recalling his appearance.

“Does he resemble your guy from tonight?”

She sat back and closed her eyes, startled by the unwelcome memory.

“You think Girdlestone is the same guy as Dhabbodhú?” She shivered uncomfortably. “I mean, they’re both big, nasty guys.”

“Well, I can’t be sure, but you said Girdlestone called you, right?”

“Yes, a few times, maybe, but it wasn’t coming from Rob’s phone.”

“Maybe he used a different phone, then.”

“Oh, my God!” she screamed, dropping her phone like it was infected. “Then, Rob’s killer tried to kill me tonight?”

“They’re both clearly after something,” Cameron said, nodding over at my tote-bag.

“Dhabbodhú wants the Maltese Mozart,” I said, “and Girdlestone’s after the journal: two identities, one person after some fountain.”

“So,” Cameron wondered, “if the guy BandanaMan fell in the plaza fountain, that must not be the fountain, then.”

“But is he looking for a fountain,” LauraLynn asked, “with magical properties?”

“Man’s always wanted the quick fix for everything,” I explained, “a pill that would miraculously cure his disease instantaneously or make him lose weight without dieting, eliminating all the hard work.”

“Or like the Fountain of Youth – everybody wants to stay young,” Cameron said, “though I think that’s highly overrated.”

LauraLynn remembered, first living on her own, how she’d wanted some genie that would do the housework for her, something I thought would be a waste of a perfectly good genie.

“Or maybe some lightening-speed special transport that would get us to Garmisch without having to drive for two hours.” Cameron reminded me he’d need additional directions, noticing the intersection up ahead.

LauraLynn asked, “do you think the killer’s tracking us through my phone?” but I wasn’t sure how he could.

“Okay, how do I enter Garmsich into this GPS unit?” I asked. “I’ve never done this before,” examining it quizzically.

“Luddite! Let me do it,” LauraLynn said, leaning forward, tapping some keys.

“Wait a minute,” Cameron said, looking over at us with considerable excitement. Food had clearly helped revive his spirit.

He explained the killer could follow us, figuring out our exact whereabouts, through the GPS unit in LauraLynn’s phone.

“I’d be more concerned about the police tracking down a stolen van.”

“Exactly,” Cameron said, almost shouting, “the van’s GPS unit, not your phone’s!”

“Should we turn it off?” she wondered.

“Better yet!” Cameron leaned forward, yanking it out of its dashboard holder.

“Toss it out on the highway, then,” I suggested, “let the cars behind us drive over and smash it.”

“No,” Cameron said, “let’s throw it onto that pick-up truck there, instead.”

A clunky-looking beat-up red truck sped toward us.

“With any luck, I can make it across the center lane and...”

He heaved it over the median and watched it arc across into the back of the truck.

“Bull’s eye!”

LauraLynn laughed. “So now they’ll think we’re traveling north instead of south!”

“Those hours of basketball practice weren’t wasted!”

“Great idea, Cameron,” I said, “glad I made you think of it!”

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

“This is so weird,” he thought, trying to keep from doing anything that might look suspicious and attract Lott’s attention.

Preston Agitato continued sitting at his desk, eyes on his computer monitor.

He felt he’d been watching a race as the gap tightened between the Schweinwald cruiser and Widor’s stolen van.

What was really strange was how everything had gotten so very quiet since the second bomb had gone off, what with that strange creature and then hearing Heidi Gedankgesang’s gone missing.

But now the opera was over, people streaming out of the Festspielhaus, everyone on alert looking for anything suspicious. Martineau returned to her station, checking the security cams for the professor. At least it kept everybody occupied so nobody noticed what he’s doing, given the security force’s inability to multi-task.

More to the point, Agitato wondered about Scarpia’s unexplained “assignation” with Fictitia, whoever this woman was, out at the castle. He knew how Scarpia often labeled many of his conquests as “informants.” But she’s a reporter, possibly working undercover – he chuckled: “under the covers” – so maybe it was legitimate.

“Yeah, right...”

Or did he abduct her, for some reason, steal the van – did he know it was Widor’s? And why…?

Suddenly, he lost signal from Scarpia’s phone.

“That wasn’t a weak battery...”

Kunegunde tried to sound nonchalant despite the high speed of their chase, her report carefully worded as she reported back even if the dispatcher had carefully transferred her onto a unique frequency. That didn’t mean anyone couldn’t still listen in on their private line: they just needed to go find it.

“The perp had just gotten off 472, now heading northbound on B-17. We’re approximately five kilometers behind,” she added.

So far, so good, and no one had interrupted them, wanting explanations.

Busily following conversations of officers keeping their collective eyes open for trouble and finding nothing of significance to report, Agitato was having his own trouble multi-tasking when he noticed something odd.

“Wait, if the van is heading north,” Agitato wondered, watching his monitor, “why is Fictitia’s phone now heading south?”

= = = = = = =
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, December 11, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 22

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, Kerr, Cameron and LauraLynn are on their way to a mysterious rendezvous in a stolen van when Rob's killer tries to contact them on LauraLynn's phone. Fictitia, meanwhile, discovers that the van she had crawled into to avoid the police after not one but two bomb blasts at the Festspielhaus is on the road and makes an ominous discovery just as she's knocked unconscious. The dispatcher for Schweinwald Security (who happens also to be a SHMRG agent) also makes an ominous discovery.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 22

So far, the evening had not been going well, Chief Director of Special Forces Yoda Leahy-Hu contemplated with mounting annoyance, as she strutted around trying to intimidate Schweinwald’s Acting Director V.C. D’Arcy. There was little to build a serious case against him, she knew, but she might find him useful, nonetheless. She knew SHMRG was up to something, had been for some time, and that it involved two recent murders. What she didn't know was the role Professor Kerr played in it.

Was that some priceless artifact Kerr stole and could he be charged with theft under the International Antiquities Law? Could she charge D'Arcy as an accessory beyond obstructing an IMP investigation? Could this item he allegedly stole from Director Sullivan's office have any bearing on the case she was investigating?

If Kerr had stolen something that could prove significant in solving this case, it shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands: it must have been valuable or they wouldn’t have bolted like that.

Whatever it was, did it possess something that might prove significant to SHMRG and help further their long-range schemes? And while D’Arcy had become the consolation prize in the evening’s activities, he might know enough to be useful. What roles did that boy and the woman play, proving so elusive?

It was times like this, recalling her grandmother, she longed to possess even one of those ancient magical powers ascribed to some cartoonish movie character people assumed she was named for (little did they understand that Yoda was an ancient and honorable name in her ancestors' village in central China). So what if, like many Asian women, she was short in build? Her estimable grandmother had been a powerful figure despite her 5'2'' stature, considered comparatively tall in her native village.

"Because I am old and short and do not appear to match your Western concepts of beauty," she thought, "and because my name is that of a famous imaginary movie character, you assume I must say things like 'because old and short I am, to my mind bend you will'?"

"So, Mr. D’Arcy," she began courteously enough after an intentionally uncomfortable silence, "it seems we – as they say – meet again. Is there anything – even the slightest thing – you’d care to tell me?" She turned and looked up at him, realizing uncomfortably even sitting down he was still taller than she was.

"Perhaps you’d begin not at the beginning but with your involvement with a certain American professor-friend of Robertson Sullivan’s?" She thought this wasn't too unreasonable a demand as a conversational ice-breaker.

D’Arcy looked straight ahead, avoiding her directly, his chin up, lips pursed. She walked slowly around behind him, pausing. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, she appeared disconcertingly in front of him

"Or perhaps you’d start by telling us who was that lady we saw you with tonight, hmmm? Your wife?"

D’Arcy furrowed his brow noticeably, mostly at the bad attempt at levity relying on such an old, culturally iconic joke, still more than any kind of response he had cared to offer. Instead, he closed his eyes as if tired of the whole thing, hoping that this would all go away.

"That’s alright," she said, half-heartedly comforting him, "we know you’re not married," her tone leaving open many possible nuances. "It’s not so important we find out who she is, after all."

D’Arcy understood his primary function as prisoner, following his role as decoy, the closest thing he could consider a plan, was to delay his captors long enough to allow Kerr to escape. He could only imagine her extreme crankiness was the result of Kerr’s having somehow managed to do just that. But still, every minute he was able to forestall the inevitable meant Kerr would be that much farther away. The one thing he hoped for was that they find the answers.

Of course, he also knew he needed not to think so much about everything that needed to be done. He knew so little as it was, barely enough to be helpful. Unfortunately, it was obvious that Kerr knew even less than he did, one reason Kerr needed Sullivan's friend’s help.

And as he sensed this annoying imp orbiting like some loathsome gnat, he continued to worry that, everything logical aside, she would manage to read his mind and figure out their destination. What it was he would find there, D’Arcy had not an inkling: the statue, this "fountain" made no sense. He knew his only consolation, whatever she chose to do to him, was there was nothing he could tell. He had no idea where Kerr was much less what needed done.

"Once again, what we really need to know, Mr. D’Arcy," she continued, "is not so much who she is but rather what she, the young man and that professor are doing. We have placed you and the professor, at least, underneath the Festspielhaus stage at the time of the explosion."

She stopped to scrutinize his reaction but D’Arcy tried not to flinch. Lips pursed, she continued her steady orbiting.

"My agents said you threw a bomb at them," she added disapprovingly.

Despite claiming not to have all night, she was taking her time.

"The more time," D’Arcy thought, "the better."

She assumed D’Arcy felt the professor played no role in the bombing.

"We also know Kerr was present when Former Director Sullivan was murdered, yet you don’t think he’s a suspect?"

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

It was bad enough things had not been going according to plan but now he had to deal with intruders getting in his way, distracting his concentration, disrupting the universe’s karmic energy. One more delay could lead to disaster and ruin years of preparation. Not tonight, not this of all nights.

“No time,” he growled, still dragging the body, “there is no time,” pulling it through the castle’s great hall, over the drawing room’s threshold just beyond the base of the steps.

The place was dimly lit, a single candle faintly illuminating one corner but light enough for him to see, his mind having attained a level of awareness powerfully enhancing his vision.

“No time,” he continued growling as he hoisted the interloper’s limp body and thrust him forcefully into a chair.

Cobwebs were everywhere and thick dust festooned them like glittering silver in the feeble glimmer of the room’s lone candle. Armchairs, old a century ago, were covered in tattered sheets like shrouds yet several end tables were piled with books as if recently abandoned, along with crystal goblets and exquisite carafes.

The hulk of a man, naked except for one leg of some diaphanous harem pants, looked about with alarm.

“There’s no time,” he told the corpse. “You will have to wait.”

What was this intruder doing, walking into the castle unannounced like that? Who was this dumpling he was expecting? Apparently not the person who greeted him, from the way he screamed. He fell to his knees with a single blow to the throat, a well-placed fist to the Adam’s apple.

It was the rapid twist to the neck, however, that killed him. Nobody would get in his way tonight. He leaned down and found the intruder’s wallet tucked in a pocket.

The hulk called himself Tr’iTone, after the interval of the augmented fourth, known throughout history as “Diabolus in Musica.” He always considered it a wonderful name, powerful but with unstable implications.

Nodding contentedly, he checked the man’s identification and learned his guest’s name.

“Mr. Scarpia, meet the Devil in Music!”

The fountain – he’d forgotten about the fountain!

“I’m running out of time!”

Robertson Sullivan had taunted him, bragged about it.

“Said he’d discovered its existence, that only the lucky ever find it.”

Where was the clue-filled artifact? What was hidden in Harrison Harty’s journal?

“But he had smirked, called me – unworthy!”

Many times he had tried to force Sullivan into giving it up but each time had been a failure. This time, it would have to work: he had planned it well.

It was tragic that, as he found Sullivan to demand the artifact, he also found Sullivan dead, clearly murdered. He’d grabbed the corpse by the lapels, frustrated he would never know.

“See no evil, then neither hear nor speak it,” he taunted him, drawing his knife across in quick gestures.

The problem was finding the fountain’s location, shrouded in time and myth, and Robertson Sullivan had known all about it. Why else had he come to Schweinwald? Yes, it must be here.

He had found the clues but couldn’t understand how to solve them. Yet he knew their importance, understanding intuitively.

Water from this fountain had the power, Tr’iTone roared, to turn him into The Greatest Composer Who Ever Lived.

“I would become even greater as – dare I consider it? – Beethoven's Heir!”

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

"Mr. D’Arcy," Leahy-Hu began again, "I understand you're protecting Mr. Sullivan’s professor-friend but what I’m having trouble understanding is why." She once again commenced her slow and steady orbiting of D’Arcy’s chair.

The room was small enough as it was but with each rotation, D’Arcy felt it was gradually getting smaller.

He had this image of a spider, small but poised for power, able to take down prey considerably larger, twining her thread around him, patiently waiting, until he’d be completely immobilized.

"Though I can’t say if he’s aware of it himself or not, the professor is still considered a suspect," before adding, "so if you're withholding anything, you’ll be an accessory yourself."

"Yes," he thought, "a very persevering spider, ready to pounce, the bitch, and suck out my life’s last blood."

She saw herself as a magnificent lioness, a natural-born killing machine, efficient, stalking the prey she’d separated from the herd, now worrying it into submission before jumping in to administer the death-blow. Circling ever closer, she could sense his mounting fear, the psychological perspiration, disappointed he was weaker than she’d estimated.

This big man, so powerful and secure sitting in his front office, had clearly underestimated her power and cunning. Here, on her own terms, supremely confident, she almost felt like roaring.

"The IMP is investigating the murders of Robertson Sullivan and Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist." She noticed D’Arcy didn’t show any reaction. "So, I take it Zeitgeist’s murder is not exactly news to you?"

"No." He paused, waiting a moment before looking at her. "I’d heard. Dr. Kerr mentioned it earlier this evening."

"Ah." She seemed mildly surprised, stopping a bit before resuming her orbit. "Curiously, nobody outside the investigation knows that."

"He said that Rob – Mr. Sullivan – had told him, something he’d suspected."

"Why do you think Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist and Robertson Sullivan had been murdered?" She was inching closer to his face.

She pointed out the coincidental arrival of Professor Kerr and the bomb.

"What was it," she asked him, "that you helped him to find – and then," waving her hand, "to steal?"

D’Arcy began his slow and thought-out explanation, how he had met Dr. Kerr moments after he’d arrived at the hotel, how Kerr had at that moment started receiving texts from Sullivan’s phone, how almost simultaneously some guy Kerr thought might be the suspect Dhabbodhú created a scene falling in the fountain.

"Who precisely is this Dhabbodhú you mention?" She was definitely all ears.

"Someone acting suspiciously before Sullivan was murdered."

"In Pennsylvania – someone who now shows up as Kerr arrives in Germany?"

"Look," D’Arcy argued, beginning to sound defensive, "Kerr never left my side until your three agents captured me backstage. He couldn’t have sent himself those texts, much less set the bomb."

He didn’t mention he’d found this artifact, something dubbed the Maltese Mozart, something overlooked by others in previous break-ins.

"Dr. Kerr is nothing more, sir, than an ill-conceived smoke-screen," Leahy-Hu added, stamping her foot on the floor for emphasis. "Yet he seems to have stolen something potentially crucial to my investigation."

Texts sent from a dead man's phone, a mysterious character lurking about: clearly somebody's after something Kerr may have.

"It's probably safe to say Kerr's bumbled into something he shouldn't have."

What is the professor's role in SHMRG?

"Mr. D’Arcy, perhaps this will enlighten you: let me show you something."

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

Even from the all-enclosing, all-comforting hiding space in the castle’s secret passageways, Lionel Roth could see and hear practically everything, what it was his friend did to the man in the tux, what he was raving about some fountain he needed to find and about what it would do for him. What he had heard him muttering about the death of Robertson Sullivan was what upset and concerned him most, wondering how he could possibly stay here and remain safe from harm.

A half-hour later, the hulk, completely naked, returned to the drawing room, carefully going through the dead man’s clothing, snarling at the things he was finding, piling them on the table.

A cell-phone dropped out of Scarpia’s pocket and skittered across the floor, coming dangerously close to where Lionel hid.

Tr’iTone glanced down, his eyebrows arching inquisitively: it bounced from the wall before coming to rest in front of him. The casing had cracked from the impact, and then it started buzzing.

Lionel froze, realizing he was only a few feet from the phone. He needed to get away from here.

Crushing the phone beneath his bare foot, not surprisingly Tr’iTone never flinched.

“You outmoded, unfashionable piece of ineffectual dreck…”

The naked man looked up as Lionel shrank further into the shadows.

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

Leahy-Hu reached in and pulled a phone from her inside coat pocket – not the same phone she’d been using earlier, but an older, dingier-looking, considerably cheaper model, one long obsolete and out-of-fashion.

She explained Zeitgeist and Sullivan had been murdered by the same killer acting on behalf of a particular agency.

"And you, I suspect," she added, looking up with a wistful smile, "may very well be in danger, too."

With that, she unfolded the phone and did a brief file search.

"I must apologize for the grainy quality of this video, I’m afraid, but it's not your standard surveillance camera."

She held the phone up to him, adjusting its position for him.

"Mr. D’Arcy, please take a very close look at this, will you? Do you recognize anyone in this video?"

= = = = = = =
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, December 08, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 21

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, Cameron, recently 'escaped' from the IMP agents, is reunited with Kerr & LauraLynn, fresh from their own escape, but when her car is destroyed by another bomb, they realize, in order to get away from Schweinwald and meet this composer D'Arcy mentioned, they will have to steal something from the hotel's parking lot: this van looks like a good prospect. Once safely on the road, Kerr follows the instructions D'Arcy gave him and makes a call to a mysterious phone number.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 21

“So, if you’re on the A-7,” he began, “just before Kempten, take B-12 east to Marktoberdorf, then B-472 to Schongau. South of Peiting, take B-23 through Unter- and Oberammergau, Ettal and Oberau. Watch that switchback into the valley – nasty! This becomes B-2 – Munich Street – which will take you south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Once through the Farchant Tunnel, reconnect with B-23 – that’ll be downtown Garmisch – this becomes Zugspitzstrasse which splits at Schmölz. Bear to the left when Zugspitzstrasse turns off into Pfeiffering.” He paused.

“There’s also Unterpfeiffering and Oberpfeiffering but keep going till you get to Hinterpfeiffering at the base of the mountain, then turn left onto Leverkühnweg and follow it up onto the mountain. My place is at the top of the drive – can’t miss it,” he concluded. “Did you get all that?”

The old man’s voice sounded professional but comforting despite his steady barrage of labyrinthine detail full of dauntingly unfamiliar names. Then I looked back over the notes I’d tried to jot down.

“Not quite,” I told him. “What was that after ‘take B-12 east’…?”

This was followed by a long pause.

“Look,” he suggested, “I’m just outside Garmisch so type that into a phone app for the directions from Kempten, and you can call me again once you get through the tunnel.”

The voice had taken me by surprise, once he’d started to speak: an African-American, an older man, possibly Southern, though why I’d thought that at first, I couldn’t be entirely sure. He hadn’t mentioned his name, nor had he bothered asking for mine. But the voice had sounded awfully familiar. As far as he knew, I was a friend of Rob Sullivan’s and one who apparently needed his help. Anything in return I knew would have to be taken on faith.

“I estimate it should take you between ninety minutes and two hours,” he said, getting ready to hang up.

“Sir, can you tell us,” I began, “why anyone would kill for…?”

“Shhh,” he cautioned, “not a word, please: you’ve no idea who’s listening.”

“But you just gave us directions to…”

However, he had already hung up without so much as saying good-bye, making me wonder what else was going on, what all that “who’s listening” stuff was all about, for one thing, and if he thought the phone-line was being tapped, why give us such complete directions to find his place. I mean, if they’d bugged LauraLynn’s phone, they know where we’re headed and now they could meet us there (though a good part of what bothered me was the “they” part).

Who were “they” anyway, I wanted to ask this mysterious old man, who or what were we up against, what would the problem be if we’d just give them the artifact? And who’s this maniac after LauraLynn’s journal: was this something else entirely, or was there some dark connection here?

The connection, I reminded myself, was that someone had murdered my friend ostensibly for this artifact hidden in his office, and now his cousin is being pursued by someone after that journal. Is it a coincidence all this is happening at the same time? What is it that links them together?

Still, I kept thinking back to that rather uncomfortable moment in the scene shop when it occurred to me perhaps D’Arcy wanted the artifact for himself or for some other villain?

It was something I always tried to get my students to understand, the important role of tension in the music, not just how it built up to the climax of the piece but how it grew from the beginning through the use of harmony, the turn of phrase, the tonal scheme. When Beethoven modulated to a surprising key, there’s a reason for that, though at the time we’re not sure, a sense of tension building gradually between the expected and the unexpected. Later, we might find this explained by the direction the music takes, perhaps during the intensely dramatic development section or maybe it will affect the anticipated resolutions of the recapitulation section. From small beginnings, tension continues to build but more importantly for the attentive listener, how will it be resolved?

Then there’s this chord, a perfectly ordinary chord we’re quite used to, but this time it does something different, unexpected, resolving some way that takes us by surprise and we lean forward, wondering which way it might resolve the next time we hear it, so many different ways it could go. But then, at that big climactic moment, we lean forward in anticipation, wondering how it might resolve this time but it does just what we’d expect it to – resolving the tension.

Since the whole point of the classical sonata form is this digression from and return to the tonic key, how composers systematically “organized” their music over a span of several centuries, if that long-delayed anticipation finally brings us back to the D Major tonic of a Symphony in D Major, then we can sit back, our expectations met and our sense of drama relieved by this hoped-for happy ending, something chemically changed by a Bunsen burner that somehow – satisfactorily – changes back.

So far, everything’s started innocently enough, going to Rob’s dinner at Benninghurst before that grisly climax of his murder, how this trip to Germany has turned into nothing but increasing tension. How these individual facts and events – these chords and modulations – eventually resolve would certainly be a comfort to know.

“Up ahead, boss: only a few more miles to Kempten,” Cameron said, pulling me out of my unresolved musical reverie. “Maybe we can grab something to eat before turning onto the B-12?”

“I still think it would be better to wait,” I told him, “until we’ve gotten further away from Schweinwald.”

Though she too was hungry, LauraLynn reluctantly agreed: “The farther, the better. Police may be looking for the van,” she added, “though I wish you had some food in this tote-bag…”

She began to rummage through it again, as if this time maybe a bag of chips would magically appear, or better yet some whole wheat crackers with paté de fois gras, finding instead the same old stuff I’d been carrying around all day – papers, her journal and this headless statue.

“You know, we really should start examining these things,” she said thoughtfully, “maybe discover what’s so valuable about them both that somebody, maniac or not, is willing to kill someone for them.”

I knew she was thinking of her cousin when she said that, having come close to being killed herself.

She carefully reached in, retrieving the artifact, and handed it to me as if to say, “okay, your turn.” Admittedly, we had the time and the opportunity to check them out.

“We’d need to turn the dome light on to read these things. Frankly, I’d rather not draw attention to ourselves,” I said, “driving along at night with the inside light on.”

“But if the glass is tinted,” Cameron mentioned, tapping the driver-side window, “can anybody really see us that clearly?”

Maybe it was more procrastination than caution or the fear of discovering something that would only make things worse, but I just wanted to reach our destination and find some answers.

Yet there was one thing I knew we really needed to do and that was track down Rob’s killer – clarification: I knew someone else really needed to track down Rob’s killer – which wasn’t going to happen if I just kept putting everything off, hoping D’Arcy’s friend would figure it out.

We’d been making good time on the Autobahn because of the speed which Cameron was enjoying, all within legal limits, and it didn’t matter whether I kept my eyes closed or not. Still, just like driving in the States, we were constantly getting passed which only incited him to drive faster.

Soon, Cameron veered off the autobahn and headed east on the B-12 when I heard another thump behind us.

“Relax,” he said, smiling over at me, “they drive faster in Europe.”

“I know,” I said, trying to remain calm, “but I just don’t want to get stopped by the police.”

“Maybe we could stop for some food along here, somewhere,” LauraLynn suggested.

The place was all farmland and woods, not a town in sight.

“There, someplace called Kraft-something not far ahead.”

The sign had sped past so quickly, I had barely read it, but at least there was a town nearby where maybe some restaurant would still be open, serving dinner this late. But I forgot not only did Europeans drive faster, they also ate later, so we could be in luck.

“Terry, you’re worried about more than food and Cameron’s driving, aren’t you?”

“Well, I was wondering about trusting D’Arcy…”

“You think we’re walking into a trap?”

“No,” I admitted. “Driving, maybe…”

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

“Of all the stupid, bloody luck,” Fictitia mumbled, biting her lip so she didn’t scream out loud and attract attention, “I had to pick some freakin’ truck that’d pull out almost immediately. Just wanted to hide from the coppers – now, if they found me, I’d be a suspect for bleedin’ sure!”

After crawling into the van, she’d felt it rev up and move, sharp turns knocking her back and forth before it finally took off, traveling at a high rate of speed.

It had seemed so opportune, the doors opening so invitingly like that just when she had lost her balance.

Who was setting all these damned explosions? Why was she always nearby?

She needed a safe place to hide, get away from the police, lay low for a while and re-boot.

What a strange night it had been and it wasn’t over, yet, first seeing that cute young guy named Cameron, then getting picked up by that old guy Scarpia at the opera before seeing the young guy get arrested, some monster running off to that haunted castle and now two explosions.

It was time to tweet a call for help but she wasn’t sure how she could best word it.

“Jeez, does that sound like a scam?” she wondered, then hit post.

The only difference between this and hide-and-seek was, whoever’d be seeking her, how would they manage to find her, lost forever somewhere in the German countryside, never to be seen again? She was rarely prone to such over-romanticizing, but this exception seemed warranted: into everyone’s life, some drama must fall.

“Just take a deep breath,” she kept telling herself, “and remain calm. I sure could use a fag, now...”

Then she smelled something familiar, like a distant but decidedly unpleasant memory.

“Bloody hell,” she blurted out as another sharp turn tossed her sideways, “look at all this crap back here!”

She swept her phone across the van, hoping it was enough light.

It looked like any ordinary electrician’s van except for the missing ladders (maybe they were kept on the roof).

Narrow shelves lined the sides and back of the narrow cargo space with tool belts neatly hung up in rows, some of them lined with small plastic boxes of screws and bolts, things her father always waxed eloquently about, rattling off their specific names and sizes as if they were poetry. How ironic would it be to find herself kidnapped by a man no more common than her blue-collar father? Had he come to Germany to find her and take her home?

But of course it wasn’t a matter of kidnapping, she knew that: she had selected this place to hide. She had crawled in voluntarily – such a stupid thing, she realized now.

Over there were boxes holding jumbles of digital clocks, all various sizes, strung up to cables of different lengths.

Things bristling with red and black wires stuck out of boxy crates, made from several kinds of metal or plastic.

Another row of cardboard boxes was marked “C4 – please handle with care.”

“Holy bloody gods-in-the-Ganges – freakin’ explosives! I hid myself in a bomb-maker’s van!”

That certainly killed any urge to smoke...

A series of sharp turns, one after another on a steep incline, sent her rolling violently across the floor, conking her head repeatedly into a steel canister until she passed out.

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

It was no busier than usual early on a beautiful summer evening though business wouldn’t start picking up until midnight, the local police only showing up when the head-bangers got too rowdy. The major problems were airline pilots out getting bombed before their flights – afterward, nobody (police included) really cared much. A typical party night, Manina thought it looked more like a masquerade, not that that was a bad thing because, given their black storm-trooper uniforms, they’d fit in much more easily.

Menveaux knew the Mobius was a popular if not infamous strip club – “dance club,” the management preferred calling it – just off the airport road outside Memmingen, a hangout for younger crowds. Having studied classical ballet as a child, she had difficulty thinking of the people bopping around here as “dancers.”

The strobe lights cut great blinding swaths through the murky smoke-filled space, a converted hangar with different levels, mirrors everywhere, many of them angled to give you a kind of fly-eyed perspective. Consequently, it was difficult to distinguish between the real and the reflected, making it impossible to eyeball a suspect.

When they’d gotten word that “Paul Meary” was heading into The Mobius, the IMP agents thought it very strange but figured, if nothing else, that professor should be easy to spot.

After marching into the club and fanning out across the dance floor, Menveaux shouted she still couldn’t recognize their target, despite the strong signal reporting his presence.

One guy bumped into Manina.

“Which is weird,” Manina shouted back, annoyed, “because according to my sensor, he should be standing right beside me.”

When the guy kept eying her up, Manina tugged at his lapel.

“Nice jacket, man. Where’d you steal it?”

Unfortunately, this guy looked nothing like the suspect Leahy-Hu had her tag.

“Hey, keep yer hands off the merchandise – you a cop or somethin’?” He pulled back, unable to squirm clear.

Reaching into the one pocket, Manina found the GPS bug she’d planted.

“Oh, it’s Paul Meary’s jacket, alright,” Menveaux reported, “it’s just not him. And the jacket is, incidentally, otherwise alone.”

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

We had gone about ten miles, maybe, once leaving the Autobahn behind, driving through darkening woods with considerably less traffic, mostly in that meditative silence typical of people recuperating from unanticipated mayhem. It had been the kind of day we’d never expected to experience or, once there, figured we wouldn’t survive. Cameron kept his eyes on the road, thinking, no doubt, of food at the end of the immediate tunnel while I wondered how the larger tunnel might come to an end.

LauraLynn, half-dozing, leaned up against me, her eyes closed and head nodding, the tote-bag held loosely in her lap, its contents momentarily forgotten in a chance to grab a quick nap. It seemed a shame to interrupt either of them at the moment, so I just continued trying to think.

“Are you asleep?” Cameron whispered.

“Yes,” I answered, “unless it’s something urgent.”

“I was just going to tell you there’s a town up ahead – we could pull off and check it out.”

“We might as well,” I told him. “We’re enough off the beaten path not to worry about it, now.”

I figured if I was feeling hungry, it was amazing Cameron hadn’t already passed out from starvation, poor guy. I hoped we could find something open that had stocked enough food.

As he slowed down and veered off into the exit for Kraftisried, I asked if anyone was following us but he said he hadn’t noticed anything, at least nothing terribly obvious. The people driving behind us kept on going once we turned off. Needless to say, that was a relief.

“Still,” I warned him, “we don’t have a lot of spare time. Let’s hope the place will have take-out.”

“Huh,” he said, “let’s hope they’re open.” The view ahead wasn’t promising.

Out of luck, it seemed: Kraftisried must’ve rolled its sidewalks up early, odd for such a beautiful summer’s night. Nothing was open, only a few lights on and no one about. We didn’t even waste time to stop, just turned the van around and headed back out to the highway.

Cameron figured the next town was a dozen miles down the road – Marktoberdorf, a bigger town with a train station – just off the B-12 once we’ve gotten onto the B-472 to Schongau. We might be there in fifteen minutes, according to his rough estimate, his senses dulled a bit by hunger. With luck, we’d find an open restaurant, something passing for a night-life, but also a greater risk of discovery, assuming the local police had gotten any reports about a stolen van.

LauraLynn woke up with a stifled scream, as if she’d found herself back in the basement of the Festspielhaus, trying to shield herself from her attacker by holding out the tote-bag. Getting her bearings took a few seconds: safe in a stolen van, we’re driving through an ominously dark forest.

“We’re driving past Hintermoos, the sign says,” Cameron mentioned, nodding behind us, “not that I can see anything except woods. I guess they’re the Hintermoosenwald – hah, it’s ‘Tales from the Moose-Butt Woods’…”

His attempted levity fell with a thud.

“Let’s hope the van doesn’t break down – place gives me the creeps…”

There wasn’t another vehicle on the road, the perfect scenario for trouble.

Fortunately, our exit was not far away, and the lights of a good-sized town were visible on the horizon.

Finding the center of town turned out not to be a problem since a number of people were walking about as we pulled onto the main street and located the train station. Across the street was a more respectable-looking restaurant than the usual tavern, groups of happy people sitting out front. Cameron, borrowing some German currency from LauraLynn, went to get some take-out while I checked the local train schedule. LauraLynn stayed in the van, wishing she could go change her clothes.

Unfortunately, they told me no trains would go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen from here, needing to connect at Munich for that: it looked like we’ll have to drive the van the whole way. Cameron got back to the van only a moment after I did, loaded down with several bags of food.

Without warning, two policemen sauntered over as we stood by the van and my stomach immediately sank to the ground. Without registration or any documents on us, we would certainly be detained.

“Just want you folks to be careful out here,” the one said. “Rumors about some terrorist on the loose.”

“Yeah,” the other one smiled, “something about bombs at an opera house. Probably that crazy French guy, Pierre Boulez!”

The first one laughed, clapping me on the shoulder, and walked away.

It surprised me they’d know Boulez’ old-time joke, about needing to reform opera by first blowing up the opera houses. They were both friendly, everything sounding innocent, not the least bit suspicious.

As we pulled away with a sharp turn back to the highway, there was another thump from the back.

“Maybe the terrorist is in the back of the van,” Cameron joked. “Maybe we should go check it out…?”

We all laughed just as LauraLynn’s phone started buzzing: an in-coming text.

“What the…?” She reached for the phone and looked at the screen. “Oh my God, it’s from Rob’s phone!”

“It’s Rob’s killer – he’s still trying to get in touch with us.”

It read, “Having trouble reaching Dr. Kerr. Are you getting any closer? Solve the riddle by sunrise – or else!”

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

Agent Lott looked over toward Preston Agitato who sounded like he might need the Heimlich maneuver (“been there, done that”), but her Schweinwald Security counterpart waved back giving her an apologetic thumbs-up. He’d spewed coffee all over his monitor, whatever that was all about. She returned to her agents in Memmingen.

It had taken him completely by surprise, another plan tonight that’s backfired. First, Widor’s explosives, then this simple car-bomb! What is it with these incompetent people, complicating his being the messenger?

It was bad enough, Agitato thought, that Ms. Harty was nowhere near the car when the bomb went off, but now The Chief wanted to know why Scarpia hadn’t reported in. To say N. Ron Steele, perfectionist extraordinaire, was steamed put it mildly. He didn’t like when underlings failed him.

“He was supposed to report back to me at half-time,” Steele complained.

“That’s ‘intermission,’ sir,” Agitato corrected.

“Half-time, intermission: whatever…”

Steele wanted to know where Scarpia was and why he hadn’t called.

Agitato, hearing some chatter on the Schweinwald phone, promised The Chief he would do his best to locate Scarpia.

“Also,” Agitato continued, hesitantly, “Agent Widor has run into a… slight snag. Seems Operation Hell-Trap has gone off early.”

Steele’s icy silence meant more than disapproval.

“On it, sir,” Agitato concluded.

With everybody else distracted by the car-bomb, Agitato started typing in the access code to track Barry Scarpia’s phone. He was in before anyone could say “rights to privacy be damned.”

“OK, there’re several recent e-mails to… Fictitia@LaMouche.com? From SlimTodLX? Really, Scarpia? Cute… Wait, a pic with a tracking bug?”

The signal came in clear but its location didn’t make much sense. Agitato immediately clicked on a higher resolution.

“Huh, he’s at the old Schweinwald Castle. What the hell’s he doing…?”

He’d have to check this out later, but meanwhile he hacked into her phone’s GPS through Scarpia’s tracker bug.

“So, he’s apparently stalking her, but why? Okay, there she is, but…”

Somehow, she was showing up miles away – he took some quick calculations – like, twenty-five miles southeast of Schweinwald.

“Weird…”

Officer Martineau, frustrated about the parking lot’s surveillance cameras not being operational, decided to take her allotted cigarette break outside and asked Agitato to keep an eye on what cameras were functional. Agent Lott, annoyed at losing Paul Meary’s trail, decided to join her, keeping her radio on, just in case.

When Agitato’s private phone – his designated SHMRG line – signaled another incoming call, he immediately de-activated Schweinwald’s intercom for privacy (he was always afraid one day he’d forget and blow his cover).

“Widor!” he yelled, suddenly pulling back in case Martineau was in ear-shot. “What the hell’s going on? Everybody’s pissed!”

“Look,” he reported, “my van’s been stolen – with all the bomb-making stuff…”

“Crap! Let me enter your GPS code.” Agitato didn’t want to be Agent Widor at his next performance review…

It didn’t take long for the computer to latch onto its location – there it was, twenty-five miles southeast of Schweinwald...

Agitato did a double take. “Very weird! What the hell’s going on?”

He brought up this Fictitia woman’s location in the other window, side-by-side.

“That’s what I thought,” he mumbled. “Weird…”

What was really weird was, after carefully superimposing each of their coordinates, they were both on the same spot.

Had this Fictitia stolen Widor’s van? Why? And where was she going?

= = = = = = =
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

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Classical Grammy Nominations for 2015

It's that time of year when I get to say "Yes, Virginia, there ARE Classical Music nominees among the Grammy Awards!" So I thought I'd take a break from posting my classical-music-appreciation comedy-thriller The Lost Chord to announce the nominees for the 57th annual GRAMMY Awards in the Classical Music Division which were announced earlier today. The winners will be revealed on February 8th, 2015 during the broadcast on CBS (though, I suspect, you won't find much about the Classical winners on the broadcast).

72. Best Engineered Album, Classical

John Adams: City Noir
– Richard King, engineer; Wolfgang Schiefermair, mastering engineer (David Robertson & St. Louis Symphony) Label: Nonesuch
- - - - - - -
John Luther Adams: Become Ocean – Dmitriy Lipay & Nathaniel Reichman, engineers; Nathaniel Reichman, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) Label: Cantaloupe Music

- - - - - - -
Henri Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time – Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media
- - - - - - -
Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates & Anna Clyne – David Frost & Christopher Willis, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra); Label: CSO Resound
- - - - - - -
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending – Michael Bishop, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus) Label: ASO Media

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

74. Best Orchestral Performance

John Adams: City Noir - David Robertson, conductor (St. Louis Symphony) Label: Nonesuch
- - - - - - -
Henri Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time – Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media
- - - - - - -
Antonin Dvořák: Symphony No. 8; Leoš Janáček: Symphonic Suite from Jenůfa – Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) Label: Reference Recordings
- - - - - - -
Robert Schumann: The Four Symphonies – Simon Rattle, conductor (Berlin Philharmonic) Label: Berlin Philharmonic Recordings

- - - - - - -
Jean Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola – Robert Spano, conductor (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) Label: ASO Media

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

75. Best Opera Recording

Marc-Antonie Charpentier: La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers – Paul O'Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Aaron Sheehan; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble) Label: CPO
- - - - - - -
Darius Milhaud: L'Orestie d'Eschyle – Kenneth Kiesler, conductor; Dan Kempson, Jennifer Lane, Tamara Mumford & Brenda Rae; Tim Handley, producer (University Of Michigan Percussion Ensemble & University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra; University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & UMS Choral Union) Label: Naxos
- - - - - - -
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie – William Christie, conductor; Sarah Connolly, Stéphane Degout, Christiane Karg, Ed Lyon & Katherine Watson; Sébastien Chonion, producer (Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; The Glyndebourne Chorus) Label: Opus Arte
- - - - - - -
Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron – Sylvain Cambreling, conductor; Andreas Conrad, Franz Grundheber; Reinhard Oechsler, producer (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; EuropaChorAkademie) Label: Hänssler Classic

- - - - - - -
Richard Strauss: Elektra – Christian Thielemann, conductor; Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, René Pape & Anne Schwanewilms; Magdalena Herbst, producer (Staatskapelle Dresden; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

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

76. Best Choral Performance

Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion – René Jacobs, conductor (Werner Güra & Johannes Weisser; Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin; Rias Kammerchor & Staats-Und Domchor Berlin) Label: Harmonia Mundi

- - - - - - -
Torbjørn Dyrud: Out Of Darkness – Vivianne Sydnes, conductor (Erlend Aagaard Nilsen & Geir Morten Øien; Sarah Head & Lars Sitter; Nidaros Cathedral Choir) Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd)
- - - - - - -
Gustav Holst: First Choral Symphony; The Mystic Trumpeter – Andrew Davis, conductor; Stephen Jackson, chorus master (Susan Gritton; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus) Label: Chandos Records
- - - - - - -
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem – John Butt, conductor (Matthew Brook, Rowan Hellier, Thomas Hobbs & Joanne Lunn; Dunedin Consort) Label: Linn Records
- - - - - - -
The Sacred Spirit of Russia – Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare) Label: Harmonia Mundi

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

77. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Dreams & Prayers – David Krakauer & A Far Cry; Label: Crier Records
- - - - - - -
In 27 Pieces - The Hilary Hahn Encores – Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe; Label: Deutsche Grammophon

(3 of the 27 Encores: by Avner Dorfman, Tina Davidson, and Mason Bates)
- - - - - - -
Bohuslav Martinů: The Three Cello Sonatas – Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen; Label: BIS
- - - - - - -
Harry Partch: Castor & Pollux – Harry Partch (Track from: Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances) Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
- - - - - - -
Sing Thee Nowell – New York Polyphony; Label: BIS

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

78. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

All The Things You Are – Leon Fleisher; Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
- - - - - - -
The Carnegie Recital – Daniil Trifonov; Label: Deutsche Grammophon
- - - - - - -
Henri Dutilleux: Tout un monde lointain – Xavier Phillips; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Track from: Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time; Label: Seattle Symphony Media
- - - - - - -
Play – Jason Vieaux; Label: Azica Records
- - - - - - -
Toccatas – Jory Vinikour; Label: Sono Luminus


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

79. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

Douce France – Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit); Label: Naïve
- - - - - - -
Nicola Porpora: Arias for Farinelli – Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra); Label: Erato
- - - - - - -
Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin – Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau; Label: Onyx
- - - - - - -
Stella Di Napoli – Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur de L'Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L'Opéra National De Lyon); Label: Erato/Warner Classics

- - - - - - -
Virtuoso Rossini Arias – Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra); Label: Delos
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

80. Best Classical Compendium

Britten to America – Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor; Colin Matthews, producer; Label: NMC Recordings
- - - - - - -
Mieczysław Weinberg – Giedre Dirvanauskaite, Daniil Grishin, Gidon Kremer & Daniil Trifonov; Manfred Eicher, producer; Label: ECM New Series
- - - - - - -
Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet – Mike Marshall & Turtle Island Quartet; Mike Marshall, producer; Label: Adventure Music
- - - - - - -
Harry Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances – Harry Partch; John Schneider, producer; Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
- - - - - - -
The Solent - Fifty Years Of Music By Ralph Vaughan Williams – Paul Daniel, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer; Label: Albion Records
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

81. Best Contemporary Classical Composition

John Luther Adams: Become Ocean – John Luther Adams, composer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony); Label: Cantaloupe Music
- - - - - - -
Anna Clyne: Prince of Clouds – Anna Clyne, composer (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble) Track from: Two X Four; Label: Cedille Records
- - - - - - -
George Crumb: Voices from the Heartland – George Crumb, composer (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001) Track from: Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16; Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
- - - - - - -
Stephen Paulus: Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band – Stephen Paulus, composer (who died this past October 19th); (Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller & UMass Wind Ensemble); Track from: Fantastique - Premieres For Trumpet & Wind Ensemble; Label: MSR Classics

- - - - - - -
Roberto Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4 – Roberto Sierra, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony) Track from: Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4; Fandangos; Carnaval; Label: Naxos

The winners will be announced February 8th, 2015, on CBS. Stay tuned!

- Dick Strawser

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 20

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, Kerr recalls a childhood visit to Rob Sullivan's summer home in Maine with LauraLynn and their younger cousin, Maurice. Rita Pagliaccio's intermission feature goes more smoothly, everyone gushing about the brilliance of adding such an unexpected twist to the opera's first act finale. Dr. Kerr and LauraLynn take up hiding in Nelmondo's distant dressing room which, despite its isolation, has become a very busy place.

= = = = = = =

Chapter 20

It wasn’t that difficult to imagine Nelmondo using this obscure back exit to avoid the paparazzi and autograph seekers, ready to sneak out with some chorister for a light post-performance dinner.

“He’d said something about making a right,” I said, clutching the tote-bag. “But where do we go from here?”

We had reached the end of the hall beyond that right turn.

Here, other hallways fanned out which took us either left or right, once again thrown back into the maze.

Now I knew how salmon must feel, fighting their way valiantly upstream, once that dressing room door was yanked open: it was barely all I could manage, grabbing LauraLynn and the tote-bag, then swimming against the crowd to clamber our way into the bathroom that led to the adjacent dressing room.

We faintly heard the orchestra tuning up and the sound of applause meaning the second act was about to begin when three Festspielhaus security officers started running down a hall near us. Barely breathing, we continued hugging the wall until the clatter of boots turned and faded around the next corner.

The music reached us from the left which meant the right would take us further away from the stage. In seconds, we pushed opened the stage door onto the back lot.

Crowds of people, security officers and members of the press were standing around gaping at something along the wall but we noticed no one seemed to be looking over toward us. Whatever had caught their collective attention I figured must have had something to do with that explosion we’d heard.

Since I’m directionally challenged at best, it was difficult getting my bearings: I figured, by cutting around to the left, we’d eventually get to the hotel parking lot across the street.

With any luck they’d be guarding all the expected escape routes and leave the most obvious one wide open: “who’d be stupid enough to try that,” I could hear them argue.

Then unexpectedly I heard a familiar voice. “Hey, you guys didn’t see my jacket go by here, did you?”

“Cameron! Wow, where did you come from?” I asked in utter amazement. “I thought I’d never see you again!”

“Likewise, I’m sure,” he said, with a doff of an imaginary hat.

He explained how some creep stole his jacket and his hot dog and then ran off in this direction.

“No, I meant the last time I saw you, we were running through some underground hallways and you disappeared.”

“Oh that, yeah, I stopped at a snack machine and got arrested…”

“Considering we’re being pursued,” LauraLynn interjected, “let’s save the reunion for later?” She started pushing us both toward the road. “We need to get across to the far side of the hotel!”

As we hurried, Cameron explained how he’d been interrogated and then they just left him standing in a hallway.

 “So what happened to the other guy, then, Mr. D’Arcy?” Cameron asked, looking around as we hurried across the road, then dashed between some large bushes near the front of the hotel.

“Ah well,” I said, “he apparently sacrificed himself to the greater good.”

“Oh, that’s awful!” Cameron stopped in shock.

“No, I mean he dropped back to get caught – like a decoy.”

Cameron was visibly relieved, soon catching up.

“Still, it pisses me off about my coat – and the hot dog…”

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

Special Agent Kaye Gelida-Manina couldn’t believe the professor simply vanished like that in the hallway where they’d captured D’Arcy. According to any known information, he simply wasn’t considered all that clever. Especially since the one usher had reported seeing one of the extras escorting two strangers down a different hall.

But Agent Milton Leise had checked, verifying the dressing room was empty and neither of them had been located.

Mumbling something about sending in the rookie, Manina decided to go, herself.

Scanning the room with her thermal heat-sensing device, she found numerous details on the floor, the walls, even the ceiling.

There were also some footprints going against the flow toward the bathroom.

Curiously, they then disappeared into this closet.

She whipped the door open.

“It’s another dressing room!”

And also empty.

Cautiously peering around the door into the hallway, she noticed Wanda Menveaux standing at attention just a few rooms away.

“Agent Menvaux,” Manina asked her, “how long have you been standing there?”

“Just got back a moment ago, sir.”

“And what about the kid?”

“Paul Meary is on the move, sir.”

She asked if he had been alone when he left the building.

Apparently he was, which Manina thought unlikely.

“Because the professor and that woman were hiding in this dressing room...”

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

Worried he might have suffered a concussion, knocked flat by that blast, Garth Widor continued cursing his rotten luck, despite managing to get away in his van before anyone noticed him. Besides, now he had to come back and finish the damned job – or, more accurately, start it over again.

So how, he wondered, would he get in there to do that since the place was crawling with cops? He’d need to find some place to lay low for a while.

Maybe that old castle in the woods (“nobody would notice me there”), but one thing couldn’t wait till then: in addition to having a killer headache, his bladder was nearly exploding.

He parked the van behind the hotel to make just a quick dash inside to use the men’s room.

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

The plan, I explained, had been for D'Arcy to drive us to this mysterious composer's chalet somewhere in the mountains but beyond that I had no idea what he had in mind.

"He'd started saying something about a composer Rob might've met with recently – remember that, Cameron? Back in Rob's office."

"That's right, it was just before those damned storm troopers showed up! He never said anything more about it?"

"Well, honestly, we were a little preoccupied, dealing with said storm troopers."

Meanwhile, having no idea what we'd gotten ourselves into anyway, LauraLynn suggested we might as well take her car, a rental she’d parked behind the hotel in case she needed it. With any luck, we’ll be on the road before our pursuers realized, then I'd check D'Arcy's note for instructions.

“It’s a good sign, you’re running into us, just like I’d run into Terry and D’Arcy in the scene shop,” LauraLynn said, pointing straight ahead, her car about a hundred yards away. Finding her keys, she added, “I’m always amazed how these things work,” pressing the button on the key’s remote.

Suddenly the air was shredded by a huge explosion and her car, its doors flying, turned into a fireball.

“What the hell…?”

“That, I’m gathering, is a bad sign. Now what…?”

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

Festspielhaus Dispatcher Preston Agitato had been listening in on the squawk-box radios while eavesdropping on IMP Dispatcher Aida Lott, working from her post at the other end of the security center, wondering what all this new-found excitement was about somebody named Paul Meary who was now heading north toward Memmingen. Too bad the renovations everybody’s complaining about were so far behind schedule, the backstage security cameras weren’t properly installed. If they’d been operational, they might have figured out this professor’s location.

Looking out the security trailer’s side window, he saw the explosion almost at the same time he felt it.

“What the hell was that??” Martineau screeched, trying to focus the monitors.

Unfortunately, those cameras, though installed, weren't functioning.

Agitato called in the alert.

“Another bomb: back lot at the hotel!”

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

“Holy mother of gods,” Fictitia screamed as this second explosion went off, making her feel maybe she was a carrier. Or – this dawned on her slowly – was somebody out to get her? She’d just run back from that haunted castle, following that horrible beast, wondering what nastiness had befallen old Scarpia. At first she thought she’d need to hide from the police again before they blame her for another bomb but now maybe she needed to hide to protect herself from… – what?

The impact of the blast threw her up against this black van parked right outside the hotel’s back entrance, knocking its back doors ajar like it was offering her immediate sanctuary.

“Well, better than running into the hotel,” she thought, tired and exhausted, crawling inside, closing the doors behind her.

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

Schäufel hurriedly ordered each of his officers to the hotel’s back lot, convinced this professor had somehow planted both bombs and, following his escapades on stage, was no longer in the Festspielhaus. Officer LeVay raised the possibility the professor was sending a definite message, though Agitato knew that wasn’t the case.

After he finished coordinating the calls with Schäufel and the other officers, Agitato pulled a cell-phone from his pocket.

He tapped in a number and waited.

“The Eternal Feminine is short-lived.”

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

"Rob's ashes," LauraLynn was screaming, "I'd left the urn in the trunk! That damned bastard, he's killed him twice!"

Who'd believe it: Rob's ashes had just been scattered to the winds!

It was becoming quite clear whoever was after us – or at least the objects we held – was very serious.

“How’re we going to get there, now?” LauraLynn shouted through the din.

“Remember that train station we’d stopped at?”

“Maybe it connects with Garnish-Partenwhatzit,” Cameron wondered.

“Could we hail a cab?”

Since I didn’t think either would likely be the most viable way, given the absence of D’Arcy’s car or LauraLynn’s, the only thing Cameron saw likely was if we could steal one. Retreating toward some bushes near the hotel’s entrance from the back lot, I asked half-jokingly how he’d manage that.

The closest vehicle was a black cargo van like electricians might use, one without any logos painted on its side, and, as if to demonstrate, Cameron reached under the front left wheel-well to pull out a small magnetic case which, to no one’s surprise, contained what must’ve been the spare key.

Holding it up with a smirk, he said, “an answer to prayer!”

“We can’t just steal this,” LauraLynn blustered.

“And he’s probably bigger than the three of us combined,” I added.

By now, several policemen had begun converging on the hotel’s parking lot, headed for the remains of LauraLynn’s car. Without further argument, Cameron unlocked the door and we hastily clambered in. He went to start up the van, realized the alarm wasn’t set, then punched it into reverse, speeding away.

“Oh look,” Cameron said, nodding at the windows, “tinted glass. How cool!”

“Great, we’ve stolen a drug dealer’s truck…”

I heard a thump coming from the back, something loose, no doubt.

Looking in the side-view mirror, I noticed a large man, seemingly familiar, dressed in black dashing from the hotel in the midst of zipping his fly, looking very perturbed about something.

I almost said, “There’s that guy I keep thinking is Dhabbodhú, again!” Maybe I was just seeing him everywhere...

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

The bomb placed under the Festspielhaus wasn’t supposed to go off yet, not until the memorial service the next morning, so when he heard the second explosion, Rache knew something was wrong, especially after complaints about how Old Widor's been screwing things up recently, calling undue attention to Robertson Sullivan’s murder. It was only a matter of time before his rapidly increasing sloppiness ruined The Chief’s latest project, Operation Mephisto, so maybe it was time Heller Rache started keeping him under surveillance.

As he approached the parking lot, he saw the Schweinwald security officers swarming nervously around a burned-out car’s remains.

“It’s rented to LauraLynn Harty, the cousin of former Director Robertson Sullivan.”

Rache heard a pleasantly sexy, familiar voice: “Was anyone in the car?”

“There doesn’t appear to be,” Mobilé reported.

Kunegunde Nacht, hearing Dispatcher Agitato choke on his coffee, announced she’d been having drinks in the hotel with some friends. “Besides,” she added with a wink, “this was my scheduled night off.”

“Consider this my little contribution to Mephisto,” Nacht purred, pulling Rache aside, “considering SHMRG’s concerned you’re a double agent.”

Motioning toward the hotel, Kunegunde asked, “who’s that over there? Not Widor…?”

Now what’s he up to,” Heller snorted.

“He’s seen us,” she said, turning around. “Careful, he’ll give us away.”

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

Once safely on the road leaving Schweinwald behind, I unfolded D'Arcy's note but found no name and no phone number.

"Call Drummoyne," he'd scribbled down, "re:# in RS file emerg – call that."

RS was obviously Rob Sullivan but what number would Rob list in a personnel file as a Benninghurst fellow?

"Wait, Terry, I have Drummoyne's number in my phone," LauraLynn said. "Here."

"Hey, don't leave that out of your sight." Cameron was still annoyed how I'd let D'Arcy borrow his phone.

Drummoyne was working at his desk and surprised to hear from me. He figured it wasn't a personal call.

"How're things going? Any news about Rob's killer," we asked each other.

When I asked if Rob left some "emergency contact" in his file, Drummoyne was skeptical but agreed to check.

After a few minutes' interminable silence, he returned. "Yes, but it doesn't make any sense – just a series of letters." He started reading them off. "wait, they're musical pitches: there's an A-flat.
He didn't see it could be helpful – "It looks like some joke." I pretended it may well be one.

"Oh," I added, just as I was about to hang up, "if anyone else calls and asks for this, don't tell them you've talked to me – but leave out the A-flat?"

"Integer notation," Cameron suggested, "substituting numbers for pitches, making A-flat an 8."

"Exactly, Cameron – very good. It's an easy code..."

From what I remembered, Garmisch was about an hour south of Munich, leaving plenty of time for further discussion, but for the moment I had a very important call to make.

While Cameron explained how the substitution worked – C was 0, C-sharp was 1, working on up the chromatic scale – I carefully entered the numerical equivalents of the pitches into the phone.

Once the connection completed successfully, I glanced at D'Arcy's note which contained a further four words, clearly a password.

No sooner had it rung a second time, someone picked it up.

I took a deep breath and spoke tentatively: "What’s the frequency, Johannes?"

A dry but calming voice answered, "Speaking…"

= = = = = = =
to be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

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