Monday, August 30, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 21

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my parallel parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol”) in which Dr. Dick & LauraLynn Sullivan found refuge in a crowded Metropolitan Opera dressing room. As Director of Security Yoda Leahy-Hu had figured out a way to deal with Buzz Blogster, an old composer, settling down for a quiet evening of reading, received a mysterious message.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)
= = = = = = =

It was almost 9:30 and still Tr'iTone had heard nothing from Dr. Dick.

After contending with the unexpected visitor from the security company and tossing aside the remains of his previous costume, he began preparing the next step in tonight's on-going ritual.

It was, as usual, liberating, to walk around his home naked, free of prying eyes from the world beyond his doorstep. But having fasted the last two days, it was tempting to open the refrigerator and devour everything in sight. Fortunately he had disposed of everything on the last trash pick-up day and all that remained in his kitchen were bottles of designer water. So, he gulped down two of them, all the sustenance he would allow himself, now, so close to the conclusion of his apprenticeship.

Then he confidently climbed the stairs to his luxurious bathroom where he will rinse off the grime, the sweat and the smell of moth balls in a long, hot shower.

By the first light of dawn, he will have attained perfection and life as he knew it would be so completely different now. But as he passed a full-length mirror in the hallway, he stopped to admire himself once again.

Yes, you have already attained an incredible amount of perfection, but only a fraction of what you will posses at sunrise.

And with that, he threw himself a kiss and entered the bathroom.

--- ----- -------- ----- ---

Peter Moonbeam's phone rang an inordinate number of times – five, she counted – before the out-going sing-song of a message kicked in over some eerie music wafting along in the background.

The wine one drinks with the eyes,
The moon spills nights into waves.
Leave a message just after the beep
Like old perfume from ancient times:
The wine one drinks with the eyes...

“Come on, Moonbeam, I know you're there. You're watching the World Series just like almost everyone else. This is ICA Director of Security Leahy-Hu and you'd better pick up before I finish this sen-...”

At that moment, a breathless voice began to speak.

“Ah... Director, hi... uhm, actually I was practicing the viola and smoking my pipe... How...”

She cut him off.

“Whatever. I need to use a secure space inside the Juilliard School. We are in the midst of an international cultural crisis and I have a suspect I need to interrogate. Unfortunately, the accommodations at the Lincoln Center security office, such as it is, leave a good bit to be desired.”

“I can have one of the officers open up a practice room if you'd like or do you need something bigger?”

“Bigger,” she scowled, “much bigger.”

“Okay, there's a recording studio with a one-way window for the engineers that's not scheduled to be used tonight. I can have an officer meet you at the side entrance there and...”

“Not me, but some of my agents. They'll have a blind-folded prisoner – he's of more than ample height – you can't miss them. I will be there soon afterwards, myself.” (She had always been very sensitive about using words like tall or shortly) “How soon can you be there? I will need a Lincoln Center witness and Chief Harmon seems to be otherwise detained.”

“I can be there in... three times seven minutes,” he said, checking his watch.

“Make it more like two times five and you're on, Mr. Moonbeam.” And she hung up.

She called Manina back to inform her about meeting the officer at Juilliard and that she would be there in a few minutes herself, along with Mr. Blogster whom, she decided, they will treat just like they did that guy in the Paul Meary case.

“Yes, that's right,” she said and smiled at the memory.

She then made arrangements with Martineau to have an armed escort and a vehicle to drive her and her prisoner across to the other side of the Lincoln Center campus. Immediately.

Then, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, she sauntered back the hallway to inform Buzz Blogster to prepare himself for his next move.

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

We definitely needed a quieter place not only to hide but also to sort out the clues. LauraLynn was adamant about using them to save her brother's life and while I certainly wanted to help rescue Robertson, the emphasis D'Arcy had placed on not surrendering the information was echoing very strongly in my ear. Well, let's say, “in my brain” – every time I said “ear,” I thought of Robertson lying somewhere, who knows whether alive or dead, minus one... I also hoped that D'Arcy had managed to elude the agents.

It had not been a problem deciding to get out of the tenor's dressing room – way too noisy for my taste and too crowded for us to be able to concentrate on what needed to be done. Where to go next was another matter. As everyone was getting sucked out into the hallway, I could barely make out the black helmet and futuristic goggles of an ICA special agent peering over the crowd: had she seen me? Slipping off the waiters' trays, I grabbed my tote-bag in one hand and LauraLynn in the other, pulling her into the bathroom where we saw two doors.

Which one will it be: the lady? Or the killer rabbit

One of the doors turned out to be a small but empty linen closet while the other one which led to an empty dressing room just as Banks had told us could easily be hidden from view by leaving the closet door stand open. See? No one here, nothing more to check. Just keep moving, please... So we did that, noiselessly slipping into the adjacent dressing room. We could stay there as long as necessary, then, as soon as the uproar died down, return to Banks' dressing room rather than risk getting caught roaming the halls: having already checked this room and found it empty, it's unlikely they would come back to look again.

The plan, such as it was, was to wait until the opera was over. Then, in the rush of everybody leaving to go home, we could blend in with the crowd as we headed out onto the street. If we tried to escape now, it's possible every security officer was on the look-out for us: we'd be sitting ducks – or rather, running ducks...

“But what if Almaviva comes back to his dressing room right after his opening scene with Bartolo?” LauraLynn asked while clearing off the dressing room table.

“There isn't that much time between the music lesson and the elopement scene so they'll probably have his costume ready for him in the wings and dress him there. Another benefit to having a room off the beaten path.” With that, I picked up the two chairs that had been knocked about on the floor so now we'd have something to sit on.

“Now,” I said, getting the bobble-head doll out of the tote bag and the small golden object she had handed me which I had pocketed in the melée, “let's see what we have, here.”

I also found the ear-cuff that had been removed from Robertson's ear which I'd pocketed out by the fountain and had since forgotten about in the ensuing chaos.

“Here,” I said, handing it to LauraLynn, “I think you should have this.”

She looked at it without realizing what it was until I told her about it and then her eyes began to well up with tears. She handed it back to me, barely able to explain that she had no pockets to put it in.

“Keep it for me, for now – maybe we can return it to Robertson after all this is over.”

The other, not quite spherical object was not quite as heavy as I would have expected and probably not gold – almost too shiny. On closer inspection, I was sure it was brass. And it actually had a specific shape, not just a generic round or oblong object.

As I turned it around, I saw a face looking up at me and realized the part I'd been looking at was the back of a carved head. There was a bit of a pig-tail with a small bow and, turning the head, I found myself looking into the smiling face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Holding it out for a clearer look in the bright light of the make-up table, I thought perhaps it was more of a leer, certainly more fitting, given Mozart's sense of humor. I half-expected it to start laughing at us.

“It's the missing head to the bobble-head doll!”

“Why were they separated?”

“And why is the head made of brass when the rest is clearly cheap plastic?”

As I reached for the body of the doll, I wondered if we'd be in for some kind of explosion or chemical reaction if I'd reattach the head.

“Wait,” she said, holding out her hand and pointing at the back of the head. “That almost looks like writing of some kind.”


“There,” she said, looking down at it more closely, “just above the pig tail, like it's hidden in the strands of hair.”

“Nina?” Had this been designed by Al Hirschfeld, caricaturist to the stars, who often hid his daughter's name in the strands of hair or folds of fabric in his simple line-drawings?

“No, look,” she said, holding my hand closer to the light. With the brighter light, the shadows became more of a contrast and indeed the various squiggles and strands of hair formed three lines of text in what appeared to be Italian:


“What does that mean?”

“Everything will be found within the order.”

“Okay, what does that mean – exactly...?”

“Well, I'm not sure, but apparently this is not the answer we've been hoping for: it only tells us there's another clue to find – or clues.”

“What the hell is this, some kind of perverted scavenger hunt!?” LauraLynn was clearly not appreciating her brother's sense of humor. “Geez, who would kill somebody over a stupid little bobble-head doll?”

With that I picked up the small card-board cube the head had been packed in. She'd left it on the table and had swept it onto the floor when she was “redding up” before we sat down (at least that's what I called it, having grown up in Central Pennsylvania with several idiomatic expressions like that which usually left other people completely baffled).

I was about to toss it in the trashcan when she looked at me with mock-horror. “No, I don't think so. You should recycle that: it's pretty sturdy cardboard.”

“Ah,” I responded nonchalantly, about to drop it back in the tote-bag. “But maybe we should put the head back in the box before it gets lost. Even if we'd put it on the doll, it may come loose and drop off. I'd hate to lose it, after all this.”

“Oh, okay,” and she took the box, fumbling around with it as she tried opening it again. “Wait, look at this,” and she showed me the inside of the box. “There, on the bottom.”

There was a very small mark, something embossed but being dark print on a less dark surface, I couldn't make it out. I lifted my glasses but still couldn't make it out. Damn these middle-aged eyes!

She took it from me and held it up to one of the light bulbs, peering in, her eyebrows deeply arched.

“I thought it was a bar code at first but it looks like a musical staff with two notes – an A followed by an E-flat – and underneath it, some numbers. I can't make them out clearly – 8, 02 and 46. Make any sense to you?”

Just then, we both heard it. Footsteps in the hallway. I held my fingers up to my lips as if I needed to tell her to keep quiet.

She frowned either at the news we might be soon be discovered or at the patronizing nature of my gesture.

The footsteps stopped not far from the door. There was a pause of several seconds while we also held our breath. Suddenly I felt a sneeze coming on, but it passed just as the sound of footsteps receded back down the hallway.

Were they satisfied no one was here or did they go back for reinforcements? I didn't feel like I wanted to hang around to find out.

“We have to get out here,” I whispered.

“No shit, Sherlock.”

After sneaking out through the adjacent dressing room, we took the other hallway which veered off in a not exactly parallel path from the one we'd taken from backstage. I figured if we kept turning away from the music, we might end up somewhere we could actually escape from the building.

Or become hopelessly lost. Increasingly, it began to look more like the latter.

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

While he sat pensively at the piano, the old man listened to his assistant puttering about the kitchen boiling water for tea. He hated having it heated in the microwave; he'd heard it destroyed the healthful anti-oxidants in green tea, perhaps one explanation why he had made it past his 100th birthday. He pretended to occupy himself with the Piano Quintet that was nearly finished but now he had to figure out how to get his assistant to leave without arousing any suspicion.

He heard a phone ring – well, nothing that sounded like a real phone to him: one of those jangly, chirpy cell-phone rings – and then his assistant, a young man named Will Schlegel, was talking softly.

When he came in with the tea and a small tray of those soft butter cookies he liked so much, the assistant mentioned a friend had just called him, one he was going out to meet for an after-concert drink. Unfortunately, he'd decided not to stay for the rest of the concert and was wondering if they could meet now, the assistant explained, instead of waiting another forty minutes or so.

“If you're going to start working tonight,” he said with a mix of interest and concern, since this was not his usual habit, “I could stick around until you're ready for bed.”

“No, no – no, please, go ahead, Will. Really, I'll be fine,” he said with a beatific smile. “I just need to scratch out a few ideas to work on tomorrow morning, and then that's it.”

“Okay, if you're sure...?”

“Sure I'm sure.” He tried not to show how relieved he was, not having to come up with an excuse himself. “What was the concert, by the way?”

“Oh, the St. Louis Symphony at Carnegie Hall – he really went just to hear the two new percussion pieces but decided he wasn't up for 'The Miraculous Mandarin,' after all.”

“Ah, that's a good piece, though. Of course, when I first heard it, it was considered 'New Music,'” he chuckled. For too many listeners, today, it still is...

With that, his assistant pulled on his coat. “You know, I could stop by afterward to see if you're okay?”

“Well, I can't stop you, I guess – you have a key and all – but really,” he added, getting a little cross, “I'll be fine. Quit treating me like an old man! Go, now, and enjoy yourself. I'm really feeling quite energized.”

Energized, Will thought. I just turned 60 and often don't feel as energetic as he does at 100. Amazing... And he quietly closed the door behind him.

When he heard the elevator door close, the  old man picked up the phone, dialed D'Arcy's number and waited.

His secret message concerned him: “Is there no song for the Mighty Widow?”

For generations, it had been a cry for help from a fellow composer in trouble. What had started out as a bad pun on a popular operetta became crossed with a biblical parable Christ told at the Temple, how contributions by wealthy men, really only a small fraction of their worth, bought more influence than the tiny donation they had scoffed at made by a poor old widow though it was half of all her money. For composers who were generally poor, often solitary, usually overlooked by society and frequently fighting against the merely popular, it seemed a natural inference.

What trouble, he wondered, was D'Arcy in, today? He waited for someone to answer.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =

The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, September 2nd.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 20

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord" (my nearly parallel parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol”) in which our three cohorts, pursued by three agents from the ICA, almost single-handedly brought down the house during the first act finale of the Met's Barber of Seville, much to the surprise of the cast and the delight of the audience.

(If you are new to "The Lost Chord," the adventure begins here.)

*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER IX *** ***** ******** ***** ***

The old man, thinking how he often went out for an evening's walk with his assistant, settled down in his comfortable chair to resume re-reading Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus – in the original German, he liked to point out with a twinkle in his eye. Or perhaps tonight it would be a chance to listen to some Mozart again. He always loved listening to Mozart: it helped him put everything he had been working on into a kind of universal perspective, especially the way Mozart's characters interacted in his operas, each one so musically well-defined. It had been a busy day, working on his new piano quintet which now, with just a little over a month before his next birthday, would be ready for a celebratory performance early the next year. First, a moment's rest, he thought, as he settled back in his recliner.

But his assistant noticed the answering machine was blinking. He listened to the message quietly – actually, a few times because it didn't seem to make sense even though it clearly was not a wrong number. Transcribing it as dutifully as he could, he approached the old man who had stretched himself out in his favorite chair as if basking in the small lamp's dim glow, his eyes intensely focused.

“Sir, I've just taken down a message left by a guy named V.C. D'Arcy. He says he's a friend of yours. It sounded like he was whispering in a very large space and it seemed rather... well, urgent, I would imagine.”

The old man looked up quickly, the change in his expression trying not to undermine any sign of concern in his response. “Is that all he said?”

“No, there was a question he wanted to ask you but I can't say it made any sense to me.”

As the young man told him what D'Arcy had asked, the old man was clearly much affected by it, trying to hurry his electric recliner along faster than it would go, then struggling to get his slippers on without delay. He reached his arm out for help and the young man took it, guiding him carefully to his feet. As they shuffled off toward the cluttered desk in his workroom, the old man said “I have much work to do tonight. Could you make me a cup of tea, please?” And the old man patted his assistant's hand as he settled down at his desk.

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

As the cast gathered back stage for their bows, I collided with Count Almaviva who turned out to be the British tenor, Barry Banks. He seemed very keen on who we were and what we were doing there, but more out of genuine curiosity than anger that we'd destroyed his performance. Judging from the cheers and applause, clearly that would not be the case

I introduced myself. “May I say how thoroughly I enjoyed what little bit of your performance I was able to catch.” He bowed with mock politeness. “This is my trusted servant, Musetto,” (D'Arcy bowed and shook his hand), “my ward, Donna Della della Donna,” (Lauralynn curtsied shyly), “and I am Dr. Baroldo,” I concluded, shaking his hand. He laughed heartily at my joke. “We are fleeing from three very nasty Valkyries whose boss'd make the Queen of the Night look like a Den Mother,” I added, peering over his shoulder toward the stage crew who were busily mopping up the pumpkin remnants and trying to drag the ICA agents off stage.

The harried stage manager was frantically shooing them off, much against their will, calling out “Okay, people, positions for bows – and please, God, no more surprises!?!”

Banks grabbed one of the soldiers. “These guys need to hide – take them back to my dressing room.” Turning to me with a laugh, he added, “you'll be safe there but I think you need to be more afraid of the stage manager than your Valkyries! Go!” He pushed us away with a good old-fashioned operatic laugh as he wheeled around, heading out to the stage and the stage-manager who was semaphoring like a windmill.

And not a moment too soon. The Valkyries broke loose from the stage hands after threatening them with missile-launchers and hand-to-hand combat. Just as they started stalking across the stage, the bow curtain opened up. There they were, full center on the stage and the audience broke into wild cheers, tossing out a few comical boos the way one would “cheer” a truly nasty but well-played villain. So they stopped, took a few bows and held up their rifles, pumping their arms to the rhythm of the clapping,

The harried stage manager ordered the curtain closed at once but Almaviva urged him to leave it open for a few more seconds before trying to push them back off toward stage left. When he looked over his shoulder and saw us disappearing into the crowd off stage right, he signaled to the entire group of soldiers who came rushing on, bayonets fixed and pointed, engaging in mock-battle with the agents, managing only briefly to delay their exit.

D'Arcy decided, at this point, we knew what we had to do, my protests notwithstanding – and so he decided we should split up so he could draw the agents off in the opposite direction. It would only be a matter of time before they would be on our trail.

Our soldier, a regular spear-carrier at the Met whose name sounded something like Wyatt Zittipiano, guided us through a maze of back-stage hallways till we reached what surely must have been an out-of-the-way dressing room, explaining Mr. Banks liked the peace and quiet he found there just off the usual beaten and often very busy path.

As we turned what promised to be the last corner, we found ourselves blocked by a tiny and totally mild-mannered woman in an usher's uniform. Zittipiano stopped short as we piled into him and I barely missed getting severely rattled by his sword. He pointed down the dimly lit hallway, explaining we were friends of the tenor's he'd asked him to escort back to his dressing room. Clearly, the usher was buying none of it, though all in the most deferentially smiling way. Then he asked if she'd heard about the three armed intruders who'd wandered onto the stage during the finale, mentioning casually that they were having trouble expelling them from the backstage area.

Her eyes lit up and without a word, she was off.

Wyatt hustled us down the hall to the tenor's dressing room, explaining that though Nandi Abbott may look harmless, she was one of the most ruthless ushers in Lincoln Center's employ and was often stationed backstage to keep adoring fans away from the singers' dressing rooms. “Don't let her seeming pleasantness fool you,” he added, “there's a reason she's known here as 'Killer' Abbott.” He opened the door and let us in, telling us Mr. Banks will be here shortly. “Meanwhile,” he warned, “don't let anyone in.”

Our soldier turned on his heels and hurried back down the hallway. I shut the door behind him and said “If that usher is deaf and dumb she'll never know we're in here.” Looking at LauraLynn, our first chance to say anything privately, I saw that all the excitement must have taken her mind off what had happened to her so far this evening – being chased by a maniac, having her lab blown up, finding out her brother has been kidnapped and his ear cut off – when suddenly this reality caught up with her and she exploded in a cascade of tears and sobbing.

Just as I put my arms around her to console her, there was a quiet knock at the door.

“There's no one here. Who is it?”

“It's me.”

There was a pause.

He knocked again, a little less patiently. “It's me – Lindoro.”

“Ah. Are you really Lindoro or are you someone disguised as Lindoro?”

“Look, Baroldo, open the freakin' door, will you? It's Barry Banks – the tenor?”

He was going to have to change into his next disguise as the music teacher but was looking forward to a bit of a break and a bit of a snack, a chance to relax and unwind. I introduced us by our real names and tried to explain what was going on, leaving out the part about the reason why we were being pursued by ICA agents (since I could barely grasp that one, myself) though he said it sounded no less fantastic than some of the operas he had sung in.

LauraLynn took my tote bag and put on the dressing table, lifting out the headless bobble-head doll and the little gift-bag.

“If you need to make an escape,” our host said as he pointed into the bathroom, “there's a door in there that leads to the next dressing room which, at least tonight, is empty. The room opens a little further down the hallway and if you make a left, you'll be able to find your way back to the main-stage area.”

“Dr. Dick,” LauraLynn said, taking the little gray box out of the bag and holding it up, “what is this?”

Banks smiled at the idea I was carrying around a headless bobble-head doll of Mozart while I was being chased by rifle-toting Valkyries.

“Oh, put that away,” I said as I went to grab it from her. “We can't open that here.”

Banks looked at LauraLynn and asked her, “Perhaps you would care to join me for a little dinner after the performance?”

Just then there was a knock at the door.

“Who's there,” I asked.

“It's Guido – from Costume? I'm here to make adjustments to your 2nd Act costume, Mr. Banks?”

“What's the secret password?”

“You know,” Banks said, continuing his attentions to LauraLynn, “I could really go for a big plate of swordfish!”

“Oh, okay,” and I opened the door. A short man with a suit bag came in, a needle and thread dangling from his lips.

The room was not very large, especially for a star's dressing room, but he said it was worth it not to be in the center of all the usual backstage bustle. Barely 10'x12', it had only a small dressing table, a coat rack in the corner and an old daybed on the opposite wall, a damaged antique in faded damask covered by an equally old and barely iridescent chenille throw of questionable color, its fringes knotted and gnarled. If one could consider the room seedy at first glance, it didn't seem to bother our tenor who continued trying to hold a conversation with LauraLynn even as Guido helped him out of his soldier's costume and into the music teacher's.

LauraLynn and I were whispering back and forth as I told her that Robertson had given me the little box years ago for safe-keeping but had asked me... or rather, his assistant who turned out to be the villain now pursuing her, had asked me to bring it along when I came in for the pre-concert talk which, of course, was only a pretext for getting the box within reach. Clearly it must have some importance in all this. But Robertson had seemed determined to keep the contents of the box a secret and completely separate from something else. The idea of maintaining that secret had been very important to D'Arcy.

“But if it can help us solve the puzzle, we could give it to Dhabbohdhú and free my brother, don't you see?” LauraLynn was clearly unanimous about this.

There was another knock at the door.

“Make up for Mr. Banks.”

I opened the door and let in a man and a woman wearing blood-stained smocks, each carrying a tray of make-up containers and tubes, brushes and combs. The man introduced himself with an old-fashioned flourish: “I am Kensington Gore, make-up artist to opera's greatest stars. Ah, Mr. Banks,” he said, spying the tenor standing by the coat rack where Guido was fixing a hem that had become frayed on his costume.

Before I realized it, LauraLynn had broken the seal on the little gray box. Whatever was inside the box seemed to have a quiet glow about it.

“Electrician,” somebody barked from the hall-way. “I'm here to fix the light switch.”

“There's a nice little restaurant not far from here, if you'd care to wait around,” the tenor continued talking to LauraLynn as if they were alone in the room.

I opened the door and let in the new arrival.

“Great,” I said, pointing to the tenor, “maybe you can start by turning him off?”

Before I managed to close the door, there was another, more timid rap and a soft young voice wafted in, suspended on the scent of a delicate perfume.

“I was wondering if there was time that I could just get Juan-Diego Flórez's autograph?”

A tall sinewy blond pushed her way into the room, a leg first, then an arm holding a small notebook and a pen. I tried to explain that Mr. Flórez wasn't singing tonight but she wanted to come in any way, asking me if I'd sign her book for her, instead.

“Sure, why not?” Thinking she had recognized me from my brief walk-on at the end of the first act, I took the book and signed my name with a flourish of the pen.

She looked at it quizzically. “Who are you?”

But I didn't have time to answer her when there was yet another knock.

“Land shark!”

This was followed by a burly laugh and a heavy set man, easily well over six feet tall, pushed his way into the room as well. “I'm the electrician's assistant.”

“He's over there, if you can find him.” I turned to face LauraLynn but found myself staring into the chest of the electrician. “You know, I figured my operatic debut would be somehow different...”

Meanwhile, the young lady went about the room getting autographs, first from LauraLynn and then Kensington Gore. There was barely room to navigate.

LauraLynn held up the box up before I could get to her and shove it back into my tote bag, hissing at her, “we have no idea who's watching us!”

“Ha-LOO-ooo? Anybody home?” There was a rapid flutter of knocking at the door.

Before I could get there, the burly electrician's assistant opened it. “Who are you guys?”

“We're from the interior decorators? They sent us to do a make-over in here for Mr. Banks?”

“Well, come on in, the more the merrier,” I said, hurrying over toward them with considerable difficulty, “maybe you can make the room look a little bigger?”

“Look at this, Dr. Dick!” LauraLynn held out a medium-sized, nearly round object, golden and shiny. I took it from her quickly amid all the confusion and stuffed it into my pocket, not wanting it to get stolen or – worse – dropped in here (we'd all be trampled to death, everybody diving to retrieve it).

More urgent knocks heralded the arrival of three guys with trays of food who barged right in. “We're from the Met Commissary – they heard you had some guests, Mr. Banks, so they sent over some extra food.”

“Excellent,” the tenor sang out from his dressing table, trying to stand up despite being nearly buried under everyone. “I'm famished. Who feels like a snack?”

It was then I realized someone had left the door opened.

“Mind that door,” I shouted, trying to lunge toward it but in the process ending up body-surfing over the crowd onto the trays of food.

Everyone else started yelling “Mind that door!” Somebody managed to pull it shut just as it was immediately yanked open by a clearly irate Nandi Abbott. Towering behind her stood one of the ICA agents, her machine gun drawn and at the ready.

Out into the hallway cascaded a sinuous mass of bodies – electricians, interior decorators, waiters with trays, plates of food spilling everywhere, the autograph seeker, the make-up people and Guido – as Barry Banks, now a disheveled version of the young music master's assistant, clambered out over the mob as the usher, ready to tear into him for this infraction about having guests in his dressing room before the final curtain, gave him the three-minute warning.

“Ah, you must be one of the new supers from the finale. Quite a smashing debut,” he gushed, taking the ICA agent's hand and giving it a gallant if deferential kiss. “You must join me for dinner after the performance, perhaps?”

But she pulled brusquely away from him and watched him saunter off down the hall, warming up on “Pace e gioia sía con voi,” his opening greeting upon reconnecting with his old adversary, Dr. Bartolo. “Peace and joy to you, joy and peace.”

The ICA agent peered into the dressing room but found it otherwise empty.

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

Yoda Leahy-Hu was not feeling at her best as Security Director for the International Composers Alliance. She was stuck in a construction trailer's men's room with the recalcitrant and still damp Buzz Blogster who was plainly of no value whatsoever, at least as far as practical intelligence was concerned, refusing to offer up any useful information about Dr. Dick and what he knows about this crisis that had quickly come under her jurisdiction.

She had just gotten a call from Agent Aïda Lott reporting that her three “angels” had managed to corner their prey on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House – how do you “corner” someone in the middle of one of the largest opera stages in the world? – but they've run into what you might call “complications,” it being in the midst of a performance and all. Leahy-Hu had visions of the over-zealous junior member of the team, Edie van Sierre, killing dozens of opera stars, extras, techies and stage hands in a spray of bullets trying to get Dr. Dick's tote bag away from him.

“When I said 'by any force necessary,' I did not mean to put the Met cast, crew and audience at risk, is that clear?”

Just then, in the background, she heard machine-gun fire but was told the casualties were limited, confined to an anvil, a wagon and a large number of pumpkins. Unfortunately, the agents were foiled in their attempts to capture the fleeing Dr. Dick, architect V.C. D'Arcy and an “unknown woman companion” by the unexpected support from a bunch of supernumeraries who in the confusion managed to block their exit from the stage and allowed the fugitives to go free.

If that wasn't bad enough, she had just now gotten off the phone with the leader of the ICA code-cracking team, led by their chief cryptologist Dr. Haydn Plainview. While they could understand what the clues were, they could make no sense of what they meant. Plainview had just suggested they call in an expert musical know-it-all named Dr. Dick when Leahy-Hu exploded and practically shattered her phone, slamming it shut.

Before she had a chance to calm down, her phone rang again. This time, it was Agent Manina who announced she had good news and bad news.

“The good news better be you have captured Dr. Dick.” Leahy-Hu was in no mood for games.

“Not exactly,” Agent Manina responded icily, “but we did manage to capture the architect, D'Arcy. He said they had gotten separated somewhere: he had been running on ahead and when he turned to say something, he noticed he was alone. 'For all I know,' he said, 'they might have already been captured or perhaps even escaped.' He has not been very helpful, so far. But at least we have him...”

“That's about a five on a scale of twelve, so far as Good News is concerned, Agent Manina. Did he say who the 'unknown female companion' is?”

“No, he did not. He said he had never seen her before.”

“Yes, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know who she is, dammit! Well, bring him in – I wish to interrogate him myself.” Then she looked around the men's room where she was standing, realizing she can't very well question D'Arcy in one stall while Buzz Blogster's sitting in the next one. She could, of course, have them lock Blogster up in another room somewhere or... well, they could just let him go and see if perhaps he might lead them to where Dr. Dick is.

“Wait, I have to find another space – this one is insufficient. Give me a few minutes. And meanwhile, blindfold D'Arcy and keep him under tight control, is that understood? Now, you mentioned there was some bad news which, I'm sure, I have already guessed.”

“Uhm, yes. One of the ushers told us about two other people who were being escorted up to one of the cast's dressing rooms by one of the Sevillian militiamen and so...”

“Wait, there are civilian militia men involved in this, now?” A third person has joined our elusive fugitive and now he has managed to acquire mercenaries as well. Perhaps she had underestimated the power and wiliness of her adversary, if not his intelligence.

“Yes, but there's only about a dozen of them and they're pretty ill-equipped and badly trained. Anyway, I went up to the dressing room to investigate and found quite a party going on there but there was no sign of Dr. Dick or his mysterious lady friend, I'm afraid.”

“I need to make two calls. I'll get back to you, soon.” She stood there momentarily, her lips puckered in a vinegary moue while she contemplated a number of possible next-steps.

The first call was to Aïda Lott with an order to assign three more agents to the Met's manhunt. Then she strode out into the hallway.

“Tell your director I want every available security officer on the lookout for Dr. Dick and a tall mysterious, otherwise unidentified woman. They must not leave the perimeter of Lincoln Center. And get me the director of security for Juilliard on the phone.” There was no reason to add “and be quick about it.” Officer Martineau immediately started dialing.

Director of Security Leahy-Hu was feeling better, now. She also had an idea how to handle the problem of Buzz Blogster.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller-Comedy, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Monday, August 30th.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 19

 ... continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord" (my parallel parody of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol") in which Director of Security Yoda Leahy-Hu interrogated Buzz Blogster in the security trailer's men's room (there being no other space) before our heroes took a backstage elevator at the Met and actually ended up on the stage in the middle of a performance.

(If you are new to "The Lost Chord," the adventure begins here.)

= = = = = = =

The three black-clad agents from the ICA, virtually indistinguishable from each other, worked their way cautiously through the crowded scene shop. They had flipped on their night-vision goggles, allowing them to see things in the darkness with a ghostly clarity that would have been better if the ICA could have afforded the right kind of batteries for them. It seemed pointless to Agent Manina to spend the money on the goggles in the first place (even if they were army surplus from the Afghan War) but then not bother with the kind of batteries they were designed to use.

Even a beginning agent just out of training could have told you the perils of using second-best batteries: this wasn't, after all, like playing just another computer game. But whenever she argued with her colleagues about the morality of such cut-backs, she was always greeted by knowing nods. Preaching to the choir was pointless – they all agreed with her – but taking their concerns to their boss was considered suicidal. Disagreement was looked upon as disaffection and anyone less than 100% committed to the ICA could easily be replaced. Dogmatic devotion was required: it was the price, they knew, of freedom, the only way they could protect and maintain their freedom.

Still, lingering doubts flickered through their minds in between the flickering images of set pieces and work stations littering the scene shop they cautiously worked their way through. After all, how dangerous was this Dr. Dick person? They'd been up against terrorists before – some from the New Music fringe groups in Europe like SHMRG – it was unlikely there was too much to worry about, here.

Some of the things Agent Manina had heard about this Dhabbohdhú guy were a bit unnerving, but he wasn't the one in their radar scope at the moment. Piece of cake, taking out an old duffer of an academic like this guy.

On the other hand, why were they even bothering with him? Dhabbohdhú seemed clearly to be the more dangerous prey - more challenging, too. But she knew there could be no breech in protocol by questioning Director Leahy-Hu's directions, and so deeper into the dimness they went.


It was Agent van Sierre who signaled to the others that she had found something.

“No,” she said when they gathered around her, “I think I stepped in some shit. My batteries are about to go and I can't see a bloody thing.”

Pretty soon, Edie would start in on what Agent Manina called her diva routine, demanding special treatment just because she's new and got stuck with the crappy equipment. So much for being a mere molecule in the mighty machine of the ICA. Instead of leading her agents on this dangerous mission, her thoughts now began focusing on Agent van Sierre as being clearly too fickle for an assignment like this. But then she remembered when she herself had first gotten started in the agency, going out on her first big case, dealing with cold feet as well as cold hands. These body suits do nothing for your circulation but they look so cool...

Agent Furtiva-Lagrima looked down and realized there was a bucket of paint that had been spilled near a work-bench. It looked still tacky, not yet dry. “It isn't blood,” she pointed out.

“I didn't say it was, you nim-whit, I said it was 'shit'.”

“Hey,” Agent Manina hissed at them, tapping at the side of her ear-piece, a signal to let them know someone was no doubt listening to their conversation. Technically, you had to press a button to get “talk-back” with headquarters when you were out on a mission, but she knew they could listen in on everything that was said: it was their way of making sure everything was safe for the agents but it also didn't hurt when you're trying to maintain tight discipline. Things had been said in the past that came back to haunt her: that's probably why she never got that promotion last year. And the last thing she wanted to deal with now was being reprimanded for a “girl-fight” while out on a mission.

It was Agent Furtiva-Lagrima who saw the footprints first, glowing faintly along the floor, heading off toward the opposite corner. She pointed this out to Agent Manina who followed it briefly with her heat-sensor thermal imaging gun before shaking her head and waving them off the trail. “Too cold,” she replied, “probably happened hours ago. Can't be the guy we're after.”

“Nim-whit,” Agent van Sierre whispered. But meanwhile, she had paint on her boot and didn't know what to do about it.

The heat-sensor gun had just picked up a different trail, though, much warmer, perhaps only a few minutes old. Agent Manina started to follow it: two sets of foot prints, one going confidently straight ahead, the other meandering back and forth like a drunk on a highway. She motioned for the others to follow.

They heard the faint, creaking sound of a not too distant door opening, then closing. Perhaps they were only a few seconds away from wrapping this up. The three agents, their momentary personal distractions brushed aside, crouched down and focused on their prey like bloodhounds getting ready for the inevitable kill.

The explosion caught them off-guard.

It rattled through the confines of the shop like an earthquake, the sound magnified in their headsets which were designed to pick up the slightest sounds, so finely attuned a scurrying mouse, they said, would sound like a large dog thundering across a hard-wood floor.

Agent Furtiva-Lagrima wondered what a 12.7 Earthquake would sound like because she thought she must have experienced one.

“Shit.” Agent van Sierre stopped and held her aching head in her hands.

“More paint?”

“No, I think I just...”

Just then, the voice crackled into their ear-pieces. It was the resonant alto of Agent Aïda Lott who'd recently been reassigned to desk duty after having gained enough weight she no longer fit into the regulation little black body-suit.

“What the hell was that?! You girls okay? Please respond.”

“Agent Manina, here. Yes, we're okay. No idea what that was – an earthquake? Things are still rattling back here – or maybe that's just my brain...”

“Are you able to proceed?”

“There's not much dust, no real rubble. Yes, we should be able to. We just found a trail of footprints and heard a door close not far away. We're on it. But...” She paused, looking around her.

“But what, Agent Manina?”

“We were led to believe these two fugitives are unarmed and not dangerous despite the importance of the, ah, item we're to retrieve from them. Would they happen to have any bombs on them?”

“There seems to be some commotion at the Lincoln Center Security Center. Apparently there was an unrelated explosion elsewhere in the Met basement, not far from where you are located. You should be able to proceed but I would suggest some caution. Oh, and watch out: the shockwaves from the explosion might have knocked some paint-cans off the shelves?” Manina could hear the subtle smile in her tone.

“Roger that.” Manina turned and motioned the others to follow her.

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

Director Leahy-Hu waited patiently outside the men's room she had commandeered as an interrogation room, checking her watch periodically and fending off the occasional Lincoln Center security agent who expressed interest in the room's original purpose. It was taking Buzz a long time but she couldn't imagine he was trying to escape.

Without warning, there was a deafening noise and the sound of glass shattering and boxes and equipment falling to the floor as the Security Trailer rolled first to the one side and back to the other before settling with a resounding thud back in the center.

“What the hell...?” she heard several people exclaim, not least herself.

Convinced Blogster had smuggled in some C-4 explosive that somehow evaded the agent who patted him down looking for his cell phone, Leahy-Hu tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and crashed her shoulder against the men's room door to find a very surprised and very wet Buzz Blogster standing in the middle of the room. He was pulling up his soaked boxer shorts as she barged in on him and he whirled around at this second surprise.

Leahy-Hu looked half-way relieved and half-way disappointed that he had not succeeded in his escape.

“What the hell was that?” he gulped trying to regain his composure after having been soaked by extremely cold water welling up from the toilet like a tidal wave.

“Ah,” she said, trying to look concerned, “then it wasn't you.” She turned and headed down toward the front of the trailer, shouting for Chief Harmon only to be told he was already on his way toward the site of the explosion.

As hungry as it made him to think about it, Buzz figured it was probably a good idea he had decided against the Chili Macho-Supreme Lunch Special.

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

The three ICA agents quietly entered the next section of the scene shop, one that was larger and, if possible, darker than the previous one. The only sound they could hear was the faint hum of a distant motor. Not sure where it was coming from, Agent Manina succeeded in locking in the location of the cell phone they were attempting to track on their GPS: it was not far away to their left. With guns drawn, they crept cautiously up to the spot and located the phone in the middle of the walkway.

The thermal imaging gun failed to indicate any recent presence of the fugitives in the vicinity: they had apparently not only abandoned the phone but scooted it down the walkway, most likely from the opposite end of the shop. There was barely enough of a glow to distinguish set pieces in the center from storage bays along the far left side. If they had bombs on them, they could be lurking behind any of these units.

But clearly there was no explosion in this space. A few things had toppled over on the right and there was some casual litter making the walkway not the clear path she had been hoping for, but Agent Manina knew – unless they had some kind of musical superpowers – these guys were nothing to be afraid of. She cautiously motioned to the other two to follow her.

The hum of the motor stopped with a crunch. They instinctively stopped along with it, glancing around just in case. What kind of superpowers could an old academic professor have, anyway?

When they continued their stealthy stroll, they found they had reached an open space near the middle of the room. Thermal imaging showed a confusion of footprints that reminded her of one of those dance patterns laid out on the floor to help would-be ball-room aficionados but judging from this, it would appear they would never make it to the show “So You Think You Can Dance?” Then the footprints disappeared.

It turned out to be the opening of a conveyor belt, presumably to move large set pieces from the shop to the freight elevator, and from there up onto the stage of the opera house. Agent Furtiva-Lagrima pushed the red button marked START and the motor noise shuddered back into life as the belt began to creak. It was a large loop of a belt like an airport baggage carousel on steroids, but then judging from the size of some of these sets, this was apparently not exactly overkill. The Met boasted the largest stage in the world: anything built to fill that cavernous space would need to be huge. The question was, though, not how the sets for tonight's opera had made it through, but had their two fugitives found a successful way out of their trap? If they made it backstage, then, they could soon get away from them.

Just as Agent Manina gave the signal to jump on the conveyor belt, she noticed her thermal imaging gun caught something on the return belt: a human figure had recently lain down on it. Not one but two – and then she realized there were actually not two but three, the first pair lying head to head, and the last one nearly joined at the feet. It reminded her a bit of the spectral images she'd once seen on the Shroud of Turin.

Weren't there supposed to be only two suspects we're trailing? She looked at the others. Where the hell did this third one come from?

“Let's go – time to ride!” And with that, they each hopped up onto the conveyor belt and disappeared into the darkness.

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

The disguised Almaviva recovered just in time to join the slow, sweet chorale-like section while a more bemused than usual Figaro kept looking hesitantly over his shoulder.

Was it better to make eye contact with him or just pretend we weren't really there? There's no way they could mistake us for Tamino, Pamina and Papageno, I guess. Wrong opera, anyway...

The three of us standing there were just as stunned and open-mouthed as Dr. Bartolo to find ourselves experiencing the magic of theater so “up-close and personal.” As Figaro chuckled about Dr. Bartolo, he nodded his head in our direction while Almaviva shrugged his shoulders in disbelief if not concern.

It was then I noticed the sets had somehow dissolved around us, pulled noiselessly off into the flies to reveal a brightly lit, pure-white backdrop. To the audience, the cast would now look like silhouettes in front of it but in the center stood three statue-like party-crashers huddled together as if they'd just been beamed in unsuspectingly from the street.

After so much darkness, it was nearly impossible to see what was going on around us but when I looked to my right, I could see the ancient servant Ambrogio offstage helping everybody get this huge wagon in place, loaded with what appeared to be pumpkins.

And there behind them stood three svelte figures in black bodysuits wearing all kinds of forbidding looking military gear – helmets, goggles, rifles – like a video game come to life. These must be the agents who had been pursuing us through the scene shop below. So our escape, however narrow it had been only moments ago, started to look even bleaker by the beat.

Moving heel-toe then toe-heel but otherwise “frozen and immobile” like most of the cast, we three interlopers began inching sideways across the stage – it occurred to me how actually crab-like this really was, rather than the way musicians officially described “crab canons” that instead moved backwards in a most uncrab-like manner.

It was impossible for us to look inconspicuous but we decided, once the music slowed to a stop, we also had to come to a stop. I mean, we didn't want to just trash their performance: it had crossed my mind, was this the night they were broadcasting the opera in High Def to movie theaters around the world?

There was no chance here to have any reasonable discussion about our options so we just kept staring straight ahead like a menage of deer caught in the stage lights.

Clearly if we were to avoid being captured, we would need to disappear stage right – I mean, to our left – then somehow blend into the backstage chaos that would automatically ensue between the acts of the opera as the stage crew struck one set while getting ready for the next. We didn't know, of course, if there weren't more agents waiting for us on that side but then who knew, at this point, where Dhabbohdhú was?

As the gentle, virtually a cappella ensemble came to a close and Figaro was preparing to snap Bartolo out of his stupor, I saw our chance. Once the rapid-fire finale was set in motion, we could make a dash for the wings.

Oh, snap! Ambrogio and the stage crew were bringing the wagon on, headed right toward us and all under the watchful eyes of three nasty looking agents just offstage. Their guns poised across their chests, they began walking steadily toward us. We resumed inching our way, heel-toe then toe-heel, a little faster now that the music had picked up considerably, crabbing our way to the far side of the stage.

In the meantime, I noticed the double line of soldiers, stiff as tin, had somehow already found their places on the opposite side, too, so with any luck they might mask more than our lack of costume compliance from most of the audience. It seemed unlikely the black-clad secret agents would open fire on us right there in front of everyone.

All the soloists now rushed out to the walkway that circled across the front of the orchestra pit where Almaviva and Figaro grew wide-eyed as they looked back to where we had once been standing only to see three armed agents in futuristic black body-suits standing behind the wagonload of pumpkins. The old servant was looking pretty wide-eyed, himself.

I definitely did not want to make eye contact with our latest supernumeraries. There's no way in hell anyone's going to mistake them for the Three Ladies, escaped from some Eurotrash director's futuristic production of 'The Magic Flute'...

A man standing just offstage, probably the stage manager, was doing a pretty good impersonation of Mr. Gottlieb pulling his hair out. At least there were no hanging backdrops to worry about like in “A Night at the Opera,” and fortunately I was no Harpo Marx, but he probably didn't know that.

The final ensemble's opening words – Mi par d'esser con la testa in un'orrida fucina, / dove cresce e mai non resta dell'incudini sonore l'importuno strepitar – probably never had more meaning for them in their professional lives than it had at this moment.

“My head feels like it's in a horrid furnace, clanking on a freaking huge anvil.”

As lines about the furious banging of hammers that turn ones head into something wretched, dazed, stunned, in fact reducing them to madness – all sung to tongue-tying, machine-gun-like patter racing up and down the scales – I noticed there was something now suspended over the pumpkin cart: a large black rectangular object had slowly started to descend. Alone on the right side of the stage, now, Ambrogio ignored his three unexpected companions in an attempt to alert everybody to some impending disaster, quite possibly, though, not the one intended by the director. The object, once it had lowered more into view, proved to be a freaking huge anvil!

Just as Bertha climbed up to her high note – I was sure it was a high C – the three ICA agents realized I was not trying to bait them into looking up but was clearly focusing on something moving above them. One of them took a furtive glance upward then jumped back with a shouted command, opening fire on the anvil which, like a wounded animal, suddenly tore loose from one of its cables and began swaying dangerously over them.

Another round of shots, timed perfectly to the rhythms of Rossini's final extended cadence, rang out as the anvil crashed to the floor, shattering the wagon and squashing all its pumpkins.

In the madcap rush at the end, LauraLynn, D'Arcy and I somehow made it safely off the stage, swept into the wings by the fleeing soldiers. I looked back in time to see the three agents slipping and falling in what would no doubt have made a very large pumpkin pie.

The curtain quickly descended as the audience rose to its feet and cheered as one.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, August 26th.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 18

...continued from the previous installment of “The Lost Chord,” my parallel parody of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" - there's been an explosion beneath the Metropolitan Opera House, rattling the singers on stage gearing up for the first finale in Rossini's Barber of Seville. Dr. Dick & LauraLynn Sullivan have finally found each other and the villain, making his escape, reflects on his life as Zoose.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” the adventure begins here...)

*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER VIII *** ***** ******** ***** ***

Lacking anything as luxuriant as an interrogation room in the temporary Lincoln Center Security Trailer, ICA's Director of Security Yoda Leahy-Hu, needing to discuss the current situation with Buzz Blogster, decided to commandeer another facility: the men's room.

Sitting rather uncomfortably on the toilet, Buzz found it difficult to concentrate on what Leahy-Hu, who'd propped herself up against the wash-stand, was saying as she enumerated all the problems she had had so far in this investigation, advising him not to continue following in the same obstructionist path that Dr. Dick had apparently decided upon.

Yet he was still unable to help her with most of her questions. What the significance was of the “artifacts” – that was how she described the things they'd discovered in the sub-pod-level room – he had nothing even approximating a clue.

And the clues themselves didn't make a lot of sense to him. Dr. Dick wasn't too swift at figuring them out – a man who dislikes puzzles and curls up like Kafka's Cockroach when faced with a mere crossword – but implementing them was totally beyond his own skill and experience.

“Hand me your phone, young man.” Leahy-Hu held out her hand across the short distance that separated them.

Just then, someone tried the door to the men's room and found it locked.

“I'm sorry,” she called out in her husky, smoke-ravaged voice, “but I'm conducting an interrogation in here.”

“Okay, sorry – whatever you want to call it, sir.”

Her eyes glared to the point Buzz swore he could see smoke rising up off the inside of the door.

“Now, where were we? Oh yes – hand me your phone.” Again she reached toward him, a little more emphatically.

He pretended to look around for it, first in the usual pockets and then in some others. He shrugged his shoulders in the meantime.

“You don't have it? But I saw you with it at the fountain. You had taken pictures of the ear and checked some information on Google, did you not?”

“I did,” he said, squirming as he tried to reach around into his back pockets, “but I don't seem to have it at the moment.”

“Did you give it to the Professor?” She smiled.

This is a trap. I know this is a trap.

“Yes, I think I may have – when we were downstairs.” He sighed and sat back, his shoulders hunched as he worried about the safety of his phone. It was expensive, too. I hope he doesn't accidentally destroy it.

Leahy-Hu cocked her head to the left and smiled at him in an expression she had assumed might be found comforting but which Buzz took as just the opposite.


She tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear and asked him for his phone number.

“Oh, I doubt Dr. Dick would be able to answer the phone. They're totally foreign to him.” That's why I'm the one who's always the Keeper of the Phone.

“I don't expect him to answer it,” she smiled, showing some large, crooked teeth yellowed by years of smoking. “I'm waiting...”

He gave her the number and she walked out into the hallway. “Wait here, will you?” She shut the door behind her.

And where am I likely to go? There's no window, just a ventilation grate and I'm hardly that desperate to flush myself down the toilet. Then, thinking about how she smiled at him, he added, or am I?

In a moment she came back in. “Thank you, that will prove most helpful. Now, as I was saying, you have no idea what the significance of” – she looked cautiously at her notes – “Recte et retro is?”

“No, ma'am.”

“Or why Dr. Sullivan would have that engraved on a ring he would wear in his ear?”

“No, ma'am, I'd been wondering the same thing.”

“Do you know what the contents are of the Professor's tote-bag? He seems to be very concerned for its safety.”

“Well, I know he had his notes in there and he's usually very concerned about losing them. His memory's not what it used to be...”

“Enough to not want anyone else to carry them for him?”

“They're not very heavy, if that's what you mean.”

“It is not. But can you tell me about anything the two of you discussed on your drive into New York this afternoon?”

“No, not really. He's pretty quiet, usually just likes to watch the scenery go by.”

“You spoke of nothing?”

“Well, there for a while, we talked about the World Series...”

“And...? Did he seem like he was rooting for anybody in particular?”

“He's not a big sports fan, no, so he was just listening to me to be polite, I guess.”

She nodded, “I understand.” Probably a Phillies fan, then.

“Oh, and for a while, we listened to some piece of music on the radio – we played a game of 'What Makes It Bad?' but then after it was over, he went back to thinking about his talk, I guess.”

“And what made it bad, this piece of music? Did he explain?”

“He pointed out things that the composer did that were not as well done as someone else might have done? Missed opportunities, mostly, over-done clichés and the like. There really wasn't anything worthwhile in the piece but yet at the end, the audience cheered.”

“Why was that, do you think?”

“Because it was showy and ended fast and loud, probably. It was like the fast-food equivalent of empty calories that will get you going but doesn't really do anything good for your body.” This thought reminded him how hungry he was.

“And this is important to the Professor?” She seemed genuinely curious.

“Well, he's a composer and he thinks like a composer, so, yeah – I'd say it's important to him.”

“But not necessarily to you?”

“I kind of liked it – parts of it. Yeah, I mean, some of the faster bits were kind of exciting. And the musicians did a good job playing it.”

“But it wasn't a great piece of music, by your estimation?”

“Not really. I mean, the guy was no Beethoven, even on a bad day...” He tried to laugh.

Someone knocked on the door. “We got a signal.”

“Thank you,” she answered back to the door without turning her eyes from Buzz.


“Excuse me?”

“I mean, I have to take a crap – would you mind?” Buzz pretended he was trying to be polite.

“Certainly – I'll wait outside. Let me know when the paperwork's done.” She tucked a few more wisps of hair behind her ear as she turned and left.

Buzz still closed the stall door, just in case. Sitting there, patiently waiting, he recalled how Dr. Dick had once told his class that his college composition teacher had once said “Shit is the only thing that man truly creates himself,” but added that even that is not entirely true. The ancient idea was that there were two kinds of 'creativity' – the Divine Creation where God made something from nothing, and Man's making something like a table, a fine meal or a work of art out of something else, out of raw materials like wood, meat and vegetables or a lump of marble.

At the moment, there were not enough raw materials inside Buzz Blogster's gastric system to create even the slightest amount of anything, he thought, beyond whatever information he was loading up on Director Leahy-Hu. Realizing how they had eaten nothing since their stop along the highway outside Allentown around 3:00, Buzz knew, more than six hours later, he was more in need of finding someplace to eat rather than sitting in a bathroom stall.

He considered other ways he could manage to stall things, but like everything else so far this evening, he was coming up empty.

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

LauraLynn's brain was a swirl of conflicting thoughts each screaming for attention. Her brother has been kidnapped and his ear cut off: was he still alive? Could they be able to rescue him in time? Or was he already dead? Her lab and all those years of research were all just destroyed, minutes ago. She'd been running around the darkened pod trying to escape from a maniac who was intent on killing her, a man who claimed to have killed Aunt Katie's grandson and then, in that horrific break-in, Aunt Katie herself. And Haley – what had happened to her assistant, Haley?

Only a few feet into the tunnel, she felt a scream beginning to well up from deep in the soles of her feet which she knew by the time it reached her throat would probably rip the roof right off the Met.

As he entered the tunnel, lying there on the conveyor belt, D'Arcy closed his eyes but couldn't get the image out of his mind from that day Robertson Sullivan sat in his office talking to Anthony. The boy had just turned 18 a few weeks after his father died. Since neither Robertson nor LauraLynn had had any children of their own despite their unpleasant marriages, he stood to inherit a lot more money some day. Too bad he'd been such a spoiled little rich kid: remembering when he'd first met the boy, D'Arcy just wanted to punch him a good one up-side the head.

Rob had told him how Bernie's son Anthony was a mess, becoming even more withdrawn and belligerent after the funeral. When Rob offered to be “like a father to him” if he ever needed one, that he would be there for him, Anthony just laughed in his face.

Robertson had been asked to serve as Bernie's executor, so he knew how much Anthony stood to gain. He saw how lax his brother-in-law had been in bringing up his young son without the guiding hand of a woman and though Aunt Katie tried, she could find no way to get through to the boy. Whenever anybody tried to convince him to do something, he would just blurt back at them, “I don't have to listen to you. I'm rich – in fact, I'm loaded. I don't have to listen to anyfrickenbody!”

When Anthony had begun showing some interest in music – even though it was rock music – his dad had asked Rob if he would try to help him with some training. But like many young musicians who'd picked up a guitar and listened to recordings, he felt he didn't need any training. “Training spoils talent” was his mantra: it was almost as if he'd plugged his fingers in his ears when anyone tried to reason with him. And besides, what did Uncle Robertson know about Metallica or Judas Priest, much less Michael Jackson or Madonna? Look how rich they were compared to any university-bound composer of string quartets who maybe got a few performances a year, if they were lucky?

“And you know something, Uncle Rob? I'm already rich – just imagine how much richer I'll be when my songs are up there on the Billboard Charts along with Michael Jackson's! If you didn't have the Sullivan Family Fortune behind you, you'd just be another poor middle-class university professor trying to scrape together enough money to live on while you scribbled away in your hole-in-the-wall study.”

D'Arcy often wondered how he would've responded if the kid said that to him. He probably would've done more than slapped him up-side the head.

The only problem was, the songs Anthony tried to write were pretty lame. He never figured out what made the music tick: he just slapped chords together and thought as long as it was loud and rhythmic, what difference did it make? But even his band couldn't stand it after a while and they eventually all left: maybe, he thought, his real talent lie in a solo career?

But the last thing Anthony needed was some old codger like Robertson Sullivan taking pity on him and offering to teach him the basics of composition. It made him laugh. “Who needs your old Ancient Mysteries anyway? All that music they wrote and they're still dead!”

Robertson had figured it was a mistake showing him the metronome and the bobble-head doll. They'd been handed down from his teacher to him just as his teacher had been given charge of them by his teacher before him. Clearly Anthony was too young and inexperienced to be trusted with such knowledge at this time. It was a responsibility he was not prepared for: he didn't even understand why it should be entrusted to him. He couldn't sell it, he couldn't smoke it and he didn't believe Rob when he told him the knowledge they could give him would give him great fame and satisfaction, even, he'd said half jokingly, the greatest composer in the world, thinking some reference to super-power characters and computer games would help impress him.

Instead, Anthony had just laughed and walked out of the room. D'Arcy could still hear the dejected sigh and the silence that followed when Robertson had finished telling him about that day.

Vivaldi, meanwhile, was on Dr. Dick's mind as he tried to lull himself into a state of relaxation, something a doctor had told him to concentrate on when he was going in for an MRI scan. The only classical music CD they had in the room was a collection of Vivaldi violin concertos which, if they could skip over the too familiar Four Seasons might prove helpful. If he could shut down his brain and just listen to them, it might have been okay but he was too often tuned in to sorting out this ritornello from that ripieno and... well, before long, he had gotten so involved in the technical aspect of the music, his blood pressure began to spike.

Stretched out in the darkness, his feet slowly moving forward on the conveyor belt, he managed to turn the music off. Really, people use music too much just to avoid silence. This time, his eyes closed, he decided to enjoy the silence – no interior concert, no working out details on the latest composition he was working on. But then, he started thinking of himself as something lying on a conveyor belt in a factory, headed toward – what? Being packed into a box to be sold? Something that could be... eaten? He half expected, when they reached the end of the belt, he would see looming over him the gigantic figures of Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, set to grab him and wrap him in tissue or stuff him into their mouths or maybe their blouses. In reality, he realized he was only one single piece of chocolate in a box full of other, similar pieces of chocolate, a simile he did not find comforting. In the corner, Forrest Gump sat smiling.

So when he heard LauraLynn tell him to open his eyes, he was afraid to. But she sounded cheerful: they had reached the end of the line, so to speak. He needed to stand up now or be whisked back to the scene shop on the return belt.

D'Arcy got off the belt behind him and shut off the motor. Stretching hesitantly, Dr. Dick held on tightly to his tote-bag as he tried discreetly to adjust himself, relieved to find he was, in fact, totally dry.

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

She would rather have been hanging around the lounge watching the game on TV. It was still 4-to-1 in the 4th inning, getting less and less likely the Phillies would be able to suck the victory right out of the Yankees grasp. This was the first time a Series had gone to a sixth game since 2003 and wouldn't you know it, she complained to herself, she had to work the night shift that night. Of all the eff-ing luck.

Even though it was still basically a full-moon night – whackos would never realize it was officially two days ago – the 911 dispatcher still decided to alert the Doolittle and DeLay Security Company that had the account for the property on W. 69th Street. And Suzy Waltman was the next agent on duty to be sent out. At least she could listen to WCBS's coverage on her truck's radio and hopefully get back to the lounge before anyone else scored.

It all seemed pretty routine, no sign of anything weird going on. The house was dark out front, no one answered the bell. She worked her way around to the back only to see nothing particularly bothersome there, either. She called her dispatcher with the A-OK but was wondering, given the call that had come in, if they hadn't been given the wrong address. This place looked just too normal.

She was getting ready to leave when she noticed something through a basement window. Going over to investigate, she heard something behind her, turning just in time to see an intruder in the back yard, a huge one – well, the intruder was; the yard was pretty small – and before she could reach for her gun, the bald, almost naked muscular man (if that's what it was) reached over and shot her in the neck with a stun gun. The last thing she saw was the harem pants. Her head hit the ground even before she could think, “well, so much for normal.”

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

We stood somewhere in the actual basement of the backstage area of the Metropolitan Opera House, one of the most famous arts venues in the world. Though everything was dark and appropriately cavernous, it was still very impressive. Just beyond the pool of pale light were the elevators that would take us up to the backstage area and one step closer to our eventual escape. D'Arcy hit the “up” button and we waited cautiously, wondering how long it would take the ICA agents to realize how we'd escaped the scene shop.

Laura backed into something and screamed, almost jumping into my arms as if I'd be able to protect her.

As the elevator door slowly and very quietly opened, the light from inside – almost blindingly bright after all the underground darkness – highlighted a large granite bust on a massive marble base. The simple carved inscription read

(1888 – 1981)
Father of Lincoln Center

Looking at the rather unpretentious bust, I said, “From his public reputation as a racist who had no interest in New York's poorer neighborhoods, I would've expected it to have horns!”

D'Arcy chuckled, remembering Michelangelo's famous statue of the biblical Moses with its equally famous and rather mysterious horns.

Half apologetically, he added, “He certainly left this a different city than he found it, whatever you may think of how he accomplished it: all the bridges and parks, the buildings and of course he was also responsible for turning Lincoln Center into a reality.”

As we hurried into the elevator, I mentioned that Baron Haussmann had had the same problems in Paris – and a trained musician, to boot: he attended the conservatoire before he got involved in urban planning. “But he'd turned a medieval city into a modern city during the 1860s, building broad boulevards and beautiful parks – even the opera house.”

“And just like Moses, he became too powerful and too controversial. Napoleon III laid him off hoping to boost his own popularity, just like Nelson Rockefeller tried to do with Robert Moses in the early-1970s. Still, New York City would be very different today if it weren't for Mr. Moses, there.”

Laura wondered why it was down here, of all places. “Kind of an odd place to keep a public memorial, don't you think?”

“Maybe it was brought down here while we're doing some of the renovations outside. I don't know where it was located, originally.”

“So,” I suggested hesitantly, after several seconds of wondering when the 500 pound gorilla in the elevator was going to chime in, “what do we do about this code I'm supposed to crack for this Dhabbohdhú dude?

“We'll try to find a remote dressing room we can lose ourselves in and work on it without being disturbed.”

“Dhabbohdhú – or whatever his name is – said he was convinced what Robertson had told him about really does exist in the City. You have a map, right?” she said, turning to me, “can't you just give him the map? Then maybe he'll free my brother...”

“I think it's more complicated than just that,” D'Arcy said, trying to sound consoling without necessarily being condescending. Robertson was her brother and a close friend of both D'Arcy's and mine – it wasn't likely we'd just leave him hanging, not that Laura found that the most comforting thing she'd heard this very strange night.

The elevator stopped but it was the roof that slid open, not the door. Looking up, I saw a flood of bright light and the music was now very clear. They were well into the First Act finale. They had just started the spare, almost hypnotic ensemble, “Freddo ed immobile,” where Bartolo and Rosina are frozen like statues in disbelief.

Meanwhile, the floor of the elevator continued to rise. D'Arcy and I were looking around trying to figure out what was happening.

“We must be very near the stage,” I whispered. The music sounded so close. “I wish we'd have a chance to watch some of it from back here. I love this scene.”

“Uhm, guys...” Laura sounded unsure how to break this to us. “But I think we're actually on the stage...?”

Slowly, we turned.

Despite the bright lights, I could clearly see the backs of a line of soldiers on the right along with the stunned Dr. Bartolo and Rosina, dead center, standing with their backs to us and singing in short, staccato phrases. Almaviva and Figaro moved about, singing laughing scale-like lines, all accompanied by soft guitar-like chords in the plucked strings. What a delicate, magical moment!

Likewise suspended in momentary disbelief, though, was Count Almaviva as he turned and saw us at the very moment I saw him. Figaro, wondering what the distraction was, also glanced over toward us, just as I realized, beyond them, I could see the dimly lit faces of the audience, frozen like open-mouthed statues themselves.

Now what...?

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Monday, August 23rd.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 17

...continued from the previous installment of “The Lost Chord,” my parallel parody of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol," where three agents had arrived from the ICA to enter the fray; LauraLynn Sullivan, reminiscing about her family's tragic history, recognized the maniac pursuing her as the one who killed her Aunt Katie Shaw and murdered her nephew Anthony Shaw, when her thoughts were interrupted by a very loud and very nearby explosion...

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” the adventure begins here...)

= = = = = = =

The explosion hadn't been as much as Tr'iTone had hoped for but under the circumstances it did sufficient damage not just to the lab's server room but also enough to knock a hole in the outside wall, one big enough he could now make good on his much-needed escape.

The security card-reader had been jammed and wouldn't accept their ID-badges or passwords. Harmon and the others hurried around to the garage bay on the side and managed to open it just in time to see the bright flash of light in front of them. The noise and the rumble had been intense enough to knock them off their feet. As the dust began to clear, they saw the hole it had made in the wall, then the silhouette of a huge, muscle-bound bald-headed nearly naked freak shambling through the debris out onto the street beyond.

“What the hell...?” was all Harmon could manage.

Officer Ben Rubato, weaving unsteadily on his feet following the blast, radioed back to Officer Martineau. “You'd better send back-up. There was a bomb. Now there's a hole. And... and...” He couldn't figure out how to describe what else he had seen. “Well, you'd better send back-up.”

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

We heard the explosion that roared through the shop, shaking the floor of the scene shop like a California earth quake, but had no idea what it might have been. What little light there was flickered inauspiciously, the thought of being stuck in here with no light whatsoever not very reassuring. I doubted the Lincoln Center security force would use dynamite to get into the scene shop but it was unlikely they weren't too far away. Why couldn't we just make a break for the street entrance and disappear into the night? Of course, it was more than just dealing with Director Leahy-Hu, wasn't it? There was still the matter of rescuing Robertson, no matter what D'Arcy was telling me, aside from figuring out what his abductor's demands were. Ancient mysteries, indeed!

Lurking behind one of the grim prison sets for the Janáček, I could barely make out the slender figure of a woman with disheveled hair, her arms splayed across the wall behind her with her fingers outstretched – the ghost of Elektra? I nudged D'Arcy but by then, the strange figure had slunk off into the shadows. Perhaps it was a ghost.

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

Meanwhile, upstairs on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, tenor Barry Banks as the disguised Count Almaviva had just drawn his sword, threatening Dr. Bartolo with imminent danger as he continues his attempt to resist being tossed out of the house. In the midst of all the intricately choreographed stage mayhem, Basilio and the servants try to disarm the Count who managed to fell the potted orange tree on top of the hapless servant Ambrogio just as a deep rattle shook the stage and the lights flickered eerily.

There was an immediate look of concern traded between the singers: the explosion wasn't supposed to happen until the next act, Figaro's distraction during the Music Scene. And this came from the other side of the stage.

Joyce DiDonato, as Rosina, steadied herself against the servant Bertha and had an unwelcome flashback to a performance in London only four months earlier where she had fallen in the midst of the performance. Thinking she'd only fractured something, she finished the performance in the best show-must-go-on mindset with an improvised crutch and much help from her colleagues – including Juan Diego Flórez – only to be told later she'd actually broken her leg. The memory was an unwelcome one, in the midst of a complicated scene. No way! Not again!

The tension in the music continued after a bit of a flurry with Figaro's lively entrance. Baritone Franco Vassallo was trying not to look unnerved as he grabbed hold of the Count's sword-arm and complained that people were gathering in the piazza below, wondering what all the noise was about. Indeed!

Many people in the audience would have assumed it was just part of Bartlett Sher's often zany production. But there were those, both on-stage, in the pit and behind the scenes who knew that was not one of the production's special effects – not here and not that grand. Musicians in the pit glanced warily at each other. The conductor plowed ahead uneasily, following a second's pause at Figaro's climactic “Olá!” If we have to stop, they'll tell us to stop: it's not up to me.

Even though it had been over eight years, to a New Yorker the sound of any kind of explosion like that always brought back memories of September 11th and the assumption the terrorists would certainly attack again, some day. But a performance at the Met? Seemed unlikely, but these days who could say?

Still, the crew knew the first finale was gearing up and they had to prepare a complex maneuver just minutes away.

“Anvil in place?” one assistant stage manager nervously whispered into her headset while trying not to say “anybody know what the hell that was?!”

Another assistant prompted the lighting guys and the stage crew to be ready for the upcoming scene shift. Bright lights across the back – the lights are still working, yes? – and the doors rolled out of view, the wagon full of pumpkins wheeled into place. “Ready?”

Everybody confirmed they were ready. Showtime!

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

D'Arcy sniffed the air, looking at me quizzically, as if expecting me to recognize something he had smelled. Not likely – did I mention I live with nine cats?

He motioned me forward, index finger conspiratorially placed to lips. I realized I was actually tip-toeing, taking high steps, my shoulders scrunched forward, arms braced at my side like a character in an old-fashioned cartoon.

But that figure creeping across the front of the set, fingers splayed against the wall, was no ghost. Clearly it wasn't one of the security officers, either. And it certainly wasn't Director of Security Yoda Leahy-Hu. The question was, “who was it?”

“AAACK!” she gasped as she froze, her eyes saucer-like as if she were a deer and there were headlights to be caught in.

“Dr. Sullivan, I presume?” D'Arcy said in a husky whisper.

She nodded weakly.

“LauraLynn, thank God you're safe!,” I blurted out, less whisper-like.

“Dr. Dick, I'd recognize that voice anywhere!” She dashed forward to meet me and we embraced in the dark space halfway between where we'd cautiously stood though D'Arcy was desperately trying to get us to tone down the reunion.

“This is no time to re-enact the 'Recognition Scene',” he hissed at us, referring to the dramatic scene in Elektra when the princess, shabby in her torn rags, gradually realizes the man standing before her was the brother she had thought dead. Her dress may have been in tatters but I wasn't her brother, so we passed over the pleasantries quickly.

“My lab! He got my lab!” She still looked shell-shocked from whatever had happened to her. “What's going on? Where's Rob?”

It was just good to know she was okay but there wasn't time to talk. I tried calming her down while D'Arcy tried to make a call on his cell phone.

“Wait. I know where Rob is – Dhabbohdhú must have him. Hah, and I was just there this afternoon. How could I have been so stupid... so blind?”

She grabbed the phone from D'Arcy and quickly dialed in 911.

“Hello, yes – I need you to send police over to a brownstone on W. 69th Street, between Broadway and Columbus Avenue. Yes, my brother is being held hostage there by a maniac who'll probably kill him very shortly. You must act quickly. Please hurry. No, I can't remember the exact address... it was the second (or was it the third...?) brownstone in from the corner. Actually, it wasn't brown, it was more of a gray-stone. Yes. No. Well, when you find him, yes, he'll be the one with an ear missing. Yes, his abductor is a big hulk of a man. No, this afternoon he was elegantly dressed in a dove-gray three-piece suit but the last I saw him, he was bald, bare-chested and wearing harem pants. Yes, that's right. Hello?”

She broke down in tears and handed the phone back to D'Arcy with a mumbled apology.

D'Arcy told me, “We have to get rid of your cell phone: they'll probably be tracking it by GPS.” He took my phone – well, Buzz's phone – and slid it far down the alleyway between the racks of flats until I could hear it thump against something in the darkness some distance away. “Here's mine: use it sparingly.”

“But how will this maniac get in touch with me: he had Buzz's number. That's how...”

“He'll know to call my number – this phone. And...” he hesitated, looking around cautiously, “you can be expecting another call on this one, soon (I hope). You can trust him. Your code name will be The Mighty Widow.”

“Code name?”

But there was no time to ask more questions. We all heard the click and the creak of a door.

D'Arcy said “It's time. Take the conveyor belt and the elevator upstairs. I had hoped we'd have more time to talk this out. You must protect the secret,” he said, nodding at Laura but putting his index finger back to his lips. “Come on, this way.”

We scurried after him.

Near the middle of the room was the entry point for a huge conveyor belt, the opening standing well over a storey tall. D'Arcy hit a red button and the belt began to shudder into life, running almost imperceptibly. He helped Laura onto it first, then me.

“This is where I say good-bye. Good luck,” he whispered and disappeared.

“What are you going to do?” But before I could even finish the sentence, we heard an ominous click which meant our pursuers were close on our trail. As I disappeared into the long dark passageway, I heard D'Arcy get on the belt after all. At least, I hoped it was him.

It was pitch black. I clasped my tote-bag tightly to my chest and closed my eyes, hoping I wouldn't wet myself.

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

Traffic had once again come to a stand-still on Amsterdam Avenue but gradually resumed its turgid flow. Then, people saw a dark, bald and nearly naked man, apparently covered in tattoos, emerge from the hole in the wall at the fortress-like back of Lincoln Center, something clambering out and then running north along the avenue, something wearing nothing but harem pants – and even that, with the left leg cut off above the knee.

More construction, one man figured, just crossing the street. What people will wear these days just to get noticed, a cabbie thought. Others assumed they were filming a new movie with The Hulk – don't they ever get tired of blasting through buildings just he can do another run-away exit? – and so they continued on their ways, unfazed.

Tr'iTone loped along Amsterdam Avenue and kept on going past 65th Street till he got to 69th Street, figuring the less time he spent on busier, more brightly lit streets like Broadway and Columbus, the better. This way, his back to the approaching traffic, they might think he was just some over-achieving trick-or-treater heading out for a post-Hallowe'en party. By the time the security guards called the police and put out an APB on him – and just how would they describe him? – he would be safe at home.

Molehills. He knew this was the performance of a lifetime, a work you couldn't even rehearse. To have little things going wrong is no different than a singer having a tiny little memory slip or a pianist hitting a wrong note and quickly recovering, things only the most jaded of concert-goers would hold them accountable for in the end.

Even Stockhausen would be impressed – though he'd've been more impressed if he'd done it himself or, for that matter, would've still been alive to do it. True, Old Karlheinz had applauded the attackers of the World Trade Center for creating the ultimate performance piece but then he had to explain what he meant by that to an already incredulous world, retracting his statement. Too bad about that I'm-from-Sirius stuff, too.

When the wheels were first set in motion for this performance, years ago, he had no idea himself even how it would come about. He wasn't Tr'iTone then, just another London drug addict with a dream.

Anthony Sullivan Shaw was just another failed wanna-be composition student trying to get his career started in London, trying to distance himself as much as possible from his controlling family. He had been turned down by most reputable schools and thrown out of two more because he preferred partying to practicing. He felt there was always a conspiracy against him – one, because he was a wealthy American ex-patriot (not that that had ever stopped the Brits from taking to heart the likes of Henry James or T.S. Eliot); two, his Uncle Robertson was most likely lobbying with different schools not to take him seriously. He figured the main reason he didn't get in to Cambridge to study with Alexander Goehr had more to do with his uncle's refusal to write a simple letter of recommendation than anything to do with his lifestyle and apparent lack of talent.

It had tickled him to ask the great Robertson Sullivan for that letter, knowing full well Goehr was one of his favorite composers and he'd often talked of wishing he had taken the opportunity to go study with him himself. But wouldn't he have been delighted his nephew Anthony Shaw whom he professed to “love like a son” – a statement that always made the boy laugh – expressed an interest in studying with the same composer? No, of course not: anything to get back at him for not living up to his regal expectations. What a crock.

And not long after he'd written a scathing reply he'd regretted as soon as he'd dropped it in the mail-slot, Robertson received word from the London police that Anthony Shaw had been found murdered – brutally beaten, his body thrown in a sewer and discovered a couple of days later floating in the Thames. It had been a routine “drug-deal-gone-bad” assessment, not much they could do about it: they had a suspect, a well-known dealer, but they could pin nothing on him. Of course he was able to skip the country, moving to the south of France.

Odd, too, that the sizable fortune of young Anthony Sullivan Shaw had disappeared: frittered away on drugs? Large amounts of money had been routinely withdrawn over a period of six months, Robertson had assumed to pay for his drug habit – disgusting – or perhaps to pay off a blackmailer. Nothing could be proven and the police, he'd gotten the impression, were too busy to deal with a spoiled rich kid from the United States.

How far back could the guilt go?

That drug dealer who was helping young Anthony Sullivan Shaw deplete his fortune had changed everything about himself. Like young Mr. Shaw, he too had dreamed of becoming a composer but had just never applied himself. He knew everything he needed to know about the boy, his dreams and frustrations and especially his deep-seated hatred for his family. Some day, the man who would eventually call himself Tr'iTone would be able to make use of all that information. And with time, it festered and grew deep into his frequently re-inventing soul.

Like most drug dealers, he changed his identity and appearance on a regular basis. But once he settled in Provence, he settled on a more permanent name. He rented a small mountainside villa above the village of Le Canebas, on the coast between Toulon and Hyères, chosen for its proximity to the Mediterranean almost as much because it sounded like it should be the French word for “cannabis.” People went there to surf – he had once seen a sign listing some of the dangers there, pointing out its rocks as well as a nearby nudist colony – but they also went there to wile away the years.

He had no sooner arrived than he heard something on the radio while he languished naked on his patio like a lizard on a rock: the local station was playing a concert that included a work by the American composer Robertson Sullivan called “Spectral Variations.” It wasn't that he found it such a brilliant piece – in fact, there were many things about it he didn't like – but it gave him a brilliant idea.

As Zephaniah Ulysses Stephens, he now began to take two things seriously: composing and his body. He would spend the mornings writing music, studying the things he had never paid much attention to in the past. In the afternoon, he would work out in his private gym, overlooking the beach below, or spend hours at the beach, swimming and surfing. He had given up the street life associated with drugs: discipline and study, inspiration and sweat were his new drugs of choice.

He had chosen his new name because he read somewhere that “Zephaniah” meant “Hidden by God” and Ulysses because, the reference to the journeys of the Homeric hero aside, it originally meant “to be angry, to hate.” Though he liked “Zeph,” most of his few friends called him “Zoose,” after his initials, Z.U.S. And that suited him just fine: if anything, he liked the idea of being god-like.

And once he had built up a portfolio of compositions – a string quartet, some piano pieces, a cello sonata and an orchestral work with the unusual title, “The Song of Cain” – and built up his body to the point of looking like an Olympic swimmer, Zoose headed for New York City. The plan was to study composition at Juilliard with none other than Robertson Sullivan. He was quickly accepted and soon regarded as a promising student despite his being such a late-bloomer. He thought he would quickly move to the head of his class but reality turned out otherwise.

A more long-range part of the plan meant he would take what had originally been offered to young Anthony Shaw – he felt it was his by right, now, and he would take it by force, if necessary.

After barely earning his degree from Juilliard and a grudging recommendation from his teacher, Zoose returned to Le Canebas and isolated himself, preparing for the next stage of his plan. And at the end of a couple more years of the strict application of discipline and sacrifice, he was ready. He had come back to New York City, his body more developed and unrecognizable from before.

It did not surprise him his old teacher failed to recognize him. No doubt the black ski mask, black turtleneck, black flack jacket, black gloves, camouflage military pants and the black boots helped, but still... not even a glimmer of recognition?

And yet, that Thanksgiving Day when he appeared at the Sullivans' home in Cornwall-on-Hudson had not gone quite as planned. He didn't get what he was looking for, first of all; secondly, he hadn't meant to shoot anybody much less be responsible for the death of the old woman. And then running down the path into the woods, he didn't think the old man would chase after him like that, either. So many unexpected twists.

He saw an old sign hand-painted in a childish scrawl,


but instead found himself at the edge of the cliff with nowhere to turn. Robertson, panting and his face sweating despite the cold, was pointing a pistol at him. It had begun to snow again and the wind started to howl.

“You killed my nephew,” Robertson shouted at him, barely audible over the increasing gale.

“So what – he wasn't worth the powder he used to stuff up his nose. You were the one really responsible – you drove him to it, you and your fancy life-style and tough love...”

“Shut up!”

“No, you shut up, old man!” And with that, Zoose flipped him the bird.

“I said 'Shut up!'”

“No, I said 'you shut up, old – '”

Robertson couldn't take it any more: the shot rang out and the annoying hulk began to fall. It was so slow, like slow motion, just like everybody says it is.

Left for dead, he had one of those epiphanies rare for anybody but the most gifted.

He would come back: he knew he would. It was inevitable.

That night, dragging himself back to the roadway, he felt reborn. His odyssey would continue and though he would remain hidden and would continue to hate, he would no longer be Zephaniah Ulysses Stephens.

Some day, he would become Tr'iTone.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, August 19th.