Monday, October 25, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 37

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Dr. Dick & LauraLynn have been captured by the villain Tr'iTone who now prepares the next stage of their interrogation which includes a parody of the Interview with the Devil from Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus" by way of the chess match in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

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

= = = = = = =

My god, that brute's just going to leave me in here!

The music, as insidious as Ravel's Bolero, began quietly. You knew it was going to get louder if not faster. And quite frankly, even quietly it was still pretty annoying. It will be like getting hit by the Mother of All Ear-Worms, you just knew it.

I had to work fast. He had placed the statue upside down in my lap. If it wasn't awkward enough, sitting there tied to a lawn chair wearing nothing but these silly boxers, here was the Beethoven statue with the Master's head stuck between my thighs: I had to keep my knees tense so it wouldn't roll to the side. It would be my luck, I would go to relax for a moment and then the statue would roll over or crash to the floor. How long does it take a man like this to pee? I knew regardless there wasn't much time. I kept staring at the thing on the base of the statue: a jumble of pictograms, broken and scattered in no particular order...

Yeah, that sure does look like a representation of Chaos.

But wait – if Haydn could represent Chaos at the beginning of The Creation and still maintain the outward semblance of C Minor, surely there must be some way of making order out of this chaos!

Il tutto / sará trovato / nell'ordine.

It had been written on the back of Mozart's head, the seat of the brain – order was Classical, Apollonic, the Left Brain. “Everything will be found in the order.”

We found the Beethoven statue by opening the Mozart doll through the heart.  

Von Herzen — Möge es wieder — zu Herzen gehn.

The heart, the seat of emotion, Romantic, Dionysian, the Right Brain. As Beethoven had written on the score of his Missa Solemnis, “From the heart, may it return to the heart.”

I kept staring at the jumble of images, hoping Inspiration would come down from on high and make it all – in a flash – obvious to me.

I have not a clue...

But that wasn't quite true, either. I mean, there were literally dozens of clues that have been thrown my way – from medieval music like the Dufay crab canon to something more generic like Robertson's ear cuff with its inscribed “Recte et Retro” which could apply to the Mannerists of the Renaissance or the Serialists of the 20th Century. The one that kept swimming forward most often, though, was Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate - “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” from Dante's Inferno.

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be composers

Not sure where that one came from, but the sentiment was pretty much the same: it was hard work and not always rewarding. Sometimes, as Robertson used to joke with me, he wondered if he knew how much work it was going to be, compared to just, say, being the CEO of a company, would he have wanted to become a composer at all?

Order – is there some order to all these clues that will spell out the solution, like “M is for the Many Things You've Told Me” spelling out MOTHER?

Ah – VERDI. In his own day, his name had been a political rallying cry, right? Victor Emmanuel, Re d'Italia. Did VERDI mean something else here?

Wait – that's it! Verdi in a box wasn't a pictogram for a location at Verdi Square. That was all a Red Herring Chase. We had just assumed that and went right ahead with it. But what if Verdi meant something else, here? VERDI in a Square – the diagram on the base of the Beethoven statue was a square, a 12x12 square, perhaps a Magic Square like serialists would use to determine all the available forms and transpositions of the twelve-tone set or row they were using to organize – to order – a composition.

Then I remembered, years ago, when Robertson was joking about all the jargon musicians have had to come up with to describe extremely specific situations in the music, whether interpretive or technical, applied to the harmony or form or whatever they needed. It's just like any other type of art or skill – craftsmen came up with terms to describe the refined elements of their skill-sets in much the same way. All you had to do was listen in on a conversation of a bunch of modern-day computer geeks to figure that one out. It wasn't intended to be exclusive – in the sense it excluded people from their circle – but it could be used to build a common bond between colleagues, an understood secret language that had to be learned in order for you to become accepted.

Only in music, it seems that people on the outside looking in – or listening in, perhaps – thought it made their music elitist, too. While computer geeks were nerds and anyone who was a baseball fan assumed baseball terminology was populist common knowledge, musicians were regarded as “elitists.” And people who were not musicians but who liked the music were “snobs” because they affected an understanding they couldn't possibly understand: they were pretentious.

Pretentious – meaning “trying to sound intelligent by using long, complicated words” – perhaps from the Latin “pre-” meaning “before” and “tenere” meaning “to hold” like something you need “to hold before you can fully comprehend” – or maybe from the word praetensus meaning “to pretend”...

Regardless, Robertson liked to make fun of advanced music theorists sitting around spouting off terms like “The projection of a prolongational tree depends on a corresponding time-span tree in conjunction with a set of stability conditions” which might make perfect sense to someone who has studied the same concepts of cognitive constraints as Fred Lerdahl wrote about in 1988, arguing for an overall approach to developing a musical grammar, but which sounds like so much pretense to somebody who wants to know what that means in plain English.

An earlier example, one that started our conversation that afternoon, had been Milton Babbitt's article which he entitled “The Composer as Specialist” – because that's indeed what a composer is, a specialist – which ended up being published after an editor renamed it “Who Cares If You Listen?”, no doubt something that caught him (totally lost after trying to read the article) as being far catchier in attracting readers. Of course, it branded Babbitt for the rest of his life as an arrogant pretentious elitist who didn't give a rat's ass whether audiences liked his music or not, the rallying cry behind all those people now convinced that academic composers were writing only for other academic composers.

“And good grief, during the War, Milton had worked as a cryptographer for the CIA. It was in his blood!”

Then he did his dead-on imitation of Anna Russell explaining Wagner's “Ring” Cycle, complaining about analyses “given over the radio by some Great Expert for the edification of other Grrrrreat Experts.”

The point of his argument was, there were those who wrote complex music out of a natural conviction who succeed in creating Art that was capable of attracting an audience who could respond to it regardless of its complexity. And there were those who couldn't create anything enduring or successful because their music's complicated surface was merely an excuse for composing, that by sounding “complex” they only succeeded in being unnecessarily complicated.

“This,” he pointed out, “was why Beethoven's or Wagner's complexity survived and those who merely imitated the surface of their style without understanding what made it work did not.” The same, he continued, could be said of Schoenberg, Berg or Webern and their imitators, or of Philip Glass or Steve Reich and their imitators.

Not to mention the crap that's wheedling its way into my brain as I'm sitting here trying to think...

What was it Robertson had said? “What if VERDI meant 'Vector-something something Dodecaphonic Integers'?”

And then he came up with “Vector-Equivalence Re:Dodecaphonic Integers.” Without really explaining what it meant, I figured, since vectors are the numerical depictions of the space between any two notes – a minor third is three half-steps, a major third is four – whatever the relationship was between them and the notes of a twelve-tone series written out not in pitch-names like B-flat or G but in numbers or integers, 10 or 7...

And then it hit me!


I hadn't heard him come back into the room, I was concentrating so much on solving the matrix. He smacked me on the side of the head, apparently since I couldn't hear him, between the muffled sounds inside the room and the pervasiveness of the music that was already deadening the other senses as well.

He shouted at me. “Well?”

“I think I've figured it out – how to solve the puzzle.”

“Tell me.”

“Turn off the music, first,” I shouted back at him.

“No, I like the music.”

“I think it sucks, frankly, mindless brain-drubbing blather with no originality or overall redeeming value or significance...”

“I wrote this music.”

“...but that doesn't mean that should stand in the way of its being enjoyed and appreciated by...”

He grabbed me by the throat. I could imagine every fantasy he'd ever had about what he'd like to do to a critic was now playing through his mind.

“Look, Verdi-in-a-square isn't a location...”

“No shit, Sherlock!”

“Actually, it means 'Vector-Equivalent Re:Dodecaphonic Integers' in a square – like the 12x12 matrix on the base, here,” I tried to nod with my chin. He released his grasp so I could talk more easily, looking at me even more warily. Was I going to be feeding him a load of garbage just to gain my freedom, sounding like I knew what I was talking about by making things up but which he'd just have to accept for fear of being made to appear stupid because he didn't understand what I was talking about?

That could work, too. That was always Plan-B...

The music was getting louder, making it more difficult to focus. Finally, I told him the secret to translating the statue into the map he was looking for.

“Now you can let me go: I've given you the solution...”

“I'm sorry, I can't hear you, professor. Let me go sort this out.” And as he turned to go, he flipped the light off and I was back in darkness. “Thanks, dude – enjoy the concert!”

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

Despite long hours sitting through performances of Mahler symphonies or Wagner operas, Dr. Dick found himself hard-pressed to withstand the onslaught of the music that quickly filled the space he was confined in.

He's left me alone in here! I'm going to die!!

By being unable to hear anything else, by being immersed in darkness, he found all of his senses, even the sense of touch, eventually helped heighten the one sense that was prodded into activity, the one he most desired to shut down – he could hear everything better, more clearly, more intensely. He thought he was absorbing the music like a physical presence through every opening in his body before he realized, in fact, he was.

It crawled relentlessly under his skin, crept stealthily through his ears deeper into his brain. His eyes began to water until he could no longer focus, being unable to see anything in the darkness anyway. He could feel the muscles giving away, the tension flowing out of them as his brain refused to cooperate. Above all, the heart beat and the pulsing of the blood he had earlier been able to feel in his wrists, to hear in his inner ears, was now dissolving into blankness.

For years, he had described what he did for a living at the radio station as “standing in a small room with carpeting on the walls, talking to myself all night.”

In the distance, he heard something different and oddly comforting, like someone singing:

Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I know not what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.

It floated gently over him, slowly overriding the wave after wave of “new wave” music flooding his body and fighting for his soul.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an angel's psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit
With a touch of infinite calm.

It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.

My god, I'm at my own funeral and somebody is singing Sir Arthur Sullivan's 'The Lost Chord'? So, it's come to this...?

What, he wondered, had happened to all the music he had tried to compose, that he still had in his mind to compose, that had so far gone unperformed? Why, for instance, had his friend Robertson Sullivan, succeeded and he, by comparison, appears to have failed? But then, is Robertson still alive? Regardless, will his music survive him? Does any of this matter?

In the distance, he thought he could hear someone screaming. Himself?

The pain was intense: the music had reached his brain.

And with that, Dr. Dick was no more.

- - - - - - -
to be continued, one assumes...

= = = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 36

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Dr. Dick & LauraLynn have been captured by the villain Tr'iTone who now prepares the next stage of their interrogation. This scene includes a parody of the Interview with the Devil from Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus" by way of the chess game in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

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

= = = = = = =

“You can't just leave him in there!” LauraLynn screamed. “Okay, okay, I'll tell you what I know about the statue, just STOP THE MUSIC!”

But the great tattooed hulk just stood there and laughed. “Your brother should've been such a push-over. Are your heels really that round?” He picked her up and placed her, not very gently, in a chair and roughly tied her wrists to its arms, slapping her across the face at the first sign of resistance.

“Where do you have Robertson?” she spat out, trying to look around. “Is he down here, too?”

“And how are things at Verdi Square?” He looked at her solicitously, the way someone might pity a lobster before throwing it into a pot of boiling water.

“Well, for one thing, it's crawling with ICA agents – we had no choice, once they'd caught up with us.”

“So what good does knowing what the Verdi-in-a-box clue means?” He picked up the Beethoven statue as if he were about to club her with it.

“Uhm... well, I really don't know – there was a line beneath it that indicated the upper right-hand corner and said 'Falstaff enters here.' That's...”

“...not enough, I'm afraid,” he whispered, his face threateningly close to hers. “And what, exactly, does this mean, hmmm?” He held the base of the statue up in front of her.

She pulled her head back in order to see it more clearly without her reading glasses and it slowly came into focus under the strange light that enveloped them.

“But... what the hell is that?”

She thought she was looking at some kind of perverted Rubic's Cube, a large complex-looking grid, a hodge-podge of symbols or parts of symbols that needed to be re-ordered somehow in order to make some sort of sense.

[In the best of all possible worlds, there would be a really nifty graphic to insert here, but for reasons beyond this Luddite's control, that is not possible at the moment...]

A large square, twelve squares wide and twelve squares deep. But an epic piece of visual gibberish. It looked like the notation for a freakish piece of 'new music' – at least as far as the 1950s might've been concerned – but without the key to help anyone figure out how to perform it. This must be similar to what traditionally trained musicians were faced with the first time they saw scores for Earle Brown's “Available Forms” or the "moment" notation of certain piano pieces by Stockhausen.

“Well, it's on the bottom of your statue – so, what does it mean?”

There it was: an image that concealed the idea.

“It means I hadn't thought to look there before...” She turned her head away.

“And you call yourself a scientist...” He pushed her into another of the small black-painted rooms and locked the door.

- - - - - - -

Ah! And then there was light! Blinding light and weirdly orange, but at least it was light. The door to his cubicle – or whatever you'd call this – opened quickly and the boxer-clad tattooed hulk just as quickly filled the space. Without more than a curious glance, this savage looking man carried in with him another chair and a small table. He shut the music off – mercifully – and then, once he'd placed the statue of Beethoven on a near-by shelf, turned on the light switch and shut the door. The light slowly glowed into existence – one of those compact fluorescents: nice to know he may be a maniac but at least he's an eco-friendly maniac – and proceeded to set up between them, of all things, a chess board.

Pretty extreme measures to find a chess partner!

“Where's LauraLynn – is she okay? And Robertson! Where do you have him – is he okay?” My voice died in the air between us.

As I looked around, I noticed the walls were painted black but you could still it was basically one of those pre-fabricated modular sound-proofed broadcast studios or practice rooms. That would explain it: the next best thing to a sound-deprivation chamber!

He appeared to ignore my questions. “I may not be a very good chess player but I still like to play a game now and then, especially when I have a worthy opponent available.” He sounded downright cordial, a significant dissonance considering his appearance.

“I'm afraid I'm not going to prove a very worthy opponent for you – I haven't played chess in years.”

“But you are familiar with its basic rules, no?” He was trying not to sound disappointed and he certainly didn't look the type I'd disappoint willingly.

I spread out the fingers of my hands, taped at the wrists to the arm of the chair as I looked down and realized we were wearing matching boxers – sweet....

“Of course, how rude of me,” he added politely, then, leaning over the chess board, ripped the tape off with quick, violent gestures. I tried not to scream.

“Where is Robertson – the security agent told us she'd found him and he was okay. At least, that's what she said before you killed her.”

“Oh, no, unfortunately, you see, she was already dead when you called.” He then did a perfect imitation of the voice I'd heard on the phone. “I had no other way of enticing you into my lair.” Noting my surprise, he added “I am a man of many talents, I assure you – mimicry is only one of them.” He laughed a laugh that clearly did not belong to either the security agent or the charming assistant, Mr. Zeitgeist.

He handed me two pawns – one white, another black. “Will you do the honors?”

I shuffled them around in my hands and then held them out in clenched fists. It hurt to move.

He tapped my left hand which I opened to reveal the black pawn.

“Ah, good. Black, they tell me, is my best color.” He smiled and turned the board so the white pieces faced me. “In case you've forgotten, that means you begin.”

Not knowing where else to start, I merely pushed the pawn in front of my King forward two squares. He did exactly the same on his side: they now faced each other in the center of the board. My next step, I figure, I should take a little more time with, though I didn't know why. What I couldn't figure out was why we were playing chess in the first place!

“So,” he began, “you're probably thinking I should be up at Verdi Square, walking into the ICA's trap, right?”

“Uhm, no, actually, that hadn't crossed my mind.” But now that you mention it...

“This portal that Robertson referred to – refers to,” he corrected himself – “is probably not going to be underneath the statue of Verdi at 73rd & Broadway. You probably are thinking it's more likely hidden in, say, the 'Level Club' on the other side of 73rd, next to the Ansonia.”

“Uhm, no, actually, that hadn't crossed my mind, either. I don't even know what the 'Level Club' is...”

“Never mind – it's not important, just something built by a secret society for the edification of other elite members of their secret society. Sounds enticing, I know, but I don't think the Masons would be very interested in the 'Old Secrets' of a bunch of dead composers, as secretive and elitist as they might be, too. Other people might, for whatever reasons, be interested in Masonic mysteries, I guess, but not me. Your move, by the way?”

So I took my King's Bishop and moved him out to c4, thinking he would move his bishop out to a face-off in c5 but instead he moved his King's Knight out to f6. I had no idea what to do next but I knew enough to realize if I just started moving pieces around for something to do, the game would be over more quickly than I'd like. The quality of life might not be the greatest but at least it was better than sitting in the dark listening to whatever that god-awful music had been. I needed to think more about what his next move would be, preferably on the chess board – I tried not to think about what his next move might be, once the game was over.

“But it is a shame how, in this country which can't hold a candle with Europe except in its pretense to being a civilized society, it has let the Arts – and I say that with a Capital A – practically collapse into non-existence or at least a decidedly more comatose state, shall we say, close to non-existence. What is the first thing to go when governments need to find a little money to cut from their budgets? The Arts, of course!"

I cautiously moved the Queen's pawn forward a block. He countered with the pawn moving into c6.

“It's pathetic that one of the major attributes of human civilization has become so cheapened, the discussion is more about how 'relevant' classical music is to today's world rather than how powerful it can be to help preserve the human soul against everything that strives to tear it down! It's not how 'relevant' classical music is to politics or pop culture – it's fuckin' ART, man: it is its own relevance!”

The tones of voice in these few lines quickly fluctuated between the cultured, friendly voice of Zachary Zeitgeist through the genteel conversation of the dead security agent to the roaring taunts of a post-adolescent rabble-rousing street demonstrator.

If I was supposed to be concentrating on my next move, he was doing a very good job of assuring what I already knew: that I would lose so pathetically, he would be even more furious at having wasted his time and therefore concoct an even more gruesome death for me. Would there be enough time for Buzz to show up, realize what's happening, call the police and have them rescue us? How long can I prolong this game before he starts getting wise to me?

“And then there was that new Tosca at the Met – had you seen that?”

I meekly responded, “I'd read enough about it to know that...”

“I mean, where in society today is the composer? And I really mean a Composer with a Capital C who earns the respect Beethoven or Wagner did in their times? Who is this movie director – pth! – who comes along and decides to ignore some of the basic precepts of the piece as Puccini wrote it simply to fulfill his own insufficient and insignificant viewpoint? I mean, what bloody theater person would have replaced what Puccini wrote at the end of Act II with that?”

After a moment of silence, he broke in again. This time the voice was smarmy sounding. “No, it's time, dear listener, that the composer return to the Center of the Universe. Ah, but I forget, Dr. Dick, I understand you call yourself a composer?”

Without waiting for a response, he just started to laugh. I noticed how the chords tattooed across his chest seemed to transpose themselves up a whole step as his muscles quaked with the laughter.

“No, I mean we need real composers who have the strength of vision, the self-respect for their own integrity and those with not just talent but true, unmitigated genius – freakin' GENIUS, I say – who can put the focus back where it belongs, not on the performer or the conductor or, God forbid, some film person turned opera director – on the COMPOSER. That's something Robertson Sullivan could never do, and you – pfft! – spare me... Are you going to move sometime tonight, yet?”

Trying to pretend I knew what I was doing, I moved the Queen's bishop over to g5. Without batting an eye, he moved a seemingly innocuous pawn to h6. I had expected something flashier.

“Even in the schools, if they don't eliminate music from the curriculum, they eviscerate it to the level of an hour's worth of entertaining baby-sitting. Rather than acquainting their students with real music, they offer them arrangements of pop songs so they can dance and shout, the same music they hear on the radio and TV so that it becomes – here's that word again – a relevant experience! Even pop music, for what it's worth, has lost its soul – it's all about commercialism. A song is judged by how good a video it makes. And yet people who program classical music – like they do on a very small fraction of the radio dial – insist that listeners don't want to hear any vocal music even though 99% of all popular music seems to be vocal music... oh, and God forbid they should hear anything that might be the least bit new or unfamiliar to them, dare I use the word 'challenging' to stretch their experience and make them a more well-rounded individual expanding their awareness of the world around them or of the great heritage of the past. Is it so bad to actually learn something or should you just sit there and nod along with the rhythm, becoming bored if it goes on too long or doesn't have a good enough beat to it?

“People in power,” he continued, becoming increasingly hostile, “forget what power Art can have in each of us, and they do so at.. their... peril.”

After lengthy consideration, I moved my bishop from in g5 to f6 and scored the first 'take' of the match, picking up his knight with as little ostentation as possible though I felt pretty good about it: the journey was only now just beginning.

“As, apparently, do you,” he said, moving his Queen out to take my bishop. His response came as quickly as if he'd made up his mind five minutes ago what he would do, anticipating which of any possible moves I might have decided to make. I forgot how crucial it was to think not only of this and the next move but of any potential move even further down the line. Out of practice, strategic thinking was not my best attribute, especially with him jabbering all the time.

He now continued without interruption in a calmer, more aristocratic vein. “Chess, you know, is an ancient game: the sport of kings they used to call it. It's a war game straight out of the Middle Ages' feudal society and yet it is virtually unchanged today despite its popularity among the less than aristocratic classes. Now what 'relevance' does chess have to our modern society, this medieval war game which can be so easily replaced by the violence and technical ingenuities of a modern computer's game like... oh, say, Warcraft? And does anybody in the chess world run around opining the inevitable demise of the game because it lacks relevance in the modern world? What do you think of that, hmmm?"

After less hesitation than usual, I moved the Queen's knight out to c3.

“Apparently, not much.” He moved another pawn nonchalantly, this one two spaces into b5.

“Art,” he continued without dropping a beat, “is always striving for the perfection of form – or so Plato tells us. It imitates reality – that's what makes it relevant – but reality is only an imitation of the ideal. People say art cannot express emotions or it merely imitates the emotions, giving us musical experiences which evoke certain automatic responses. Considering everything both chronologically and ontologically, Plato and his followers would have us believe that once we have produced a kind of 'World Soul,' we come to the body within that soul, united center-to-center – how do the Greeks say it, hmmm? meson mesêi, is that it? Or as the Hindus express it, how the soul produces and informs the body – Parusha, the Universal Cosmic Male, informing Prakriti, the 'Mother Nature' of Creation, so that what happens above is comparable to that which happens below.” Here, he made sweeping gestures with both hands. “But that, of course you know, can be understood in the broadest sense as nothing more than a dimension of Being itself, right?”

Looking at the simplicity of his moves so far, I pulled my remaining bishop back to b3, though I wasn't really sure why. Again, my adversary quickly pushed his far-right pawn forward two spaces.

“The problem with Art – as with philosophy and religion in general – is that there is essentially no other way to arrive at Truth than through some free exchange of ideas, however it leaves the people like you and me – well, like you, any way – vulnerable to deception and manipulation by those in power, even in what we might call a Free Society. There are no 'absolutes' in Art: what one person sees in a painting or hears in a symphony may have nothing in common with what the person next to him sees or hears. How can you take sounds” – again he gestured in the air with his hands – “and transform these into some kind of physical notation for a performer to read – or interpret – that doesn't in some way stray from what the composer may have had in mind? It is a question of the power of idea abrogated by the power of the image which...”

“Just like the argument in Schoenberg's Moses und Aron," I interjected half-heartedly, as if I were not really listening and losing patience with his on-going diatribe.

“Indeed. Or for that matter, thinking of commercial media or political propaganda. Where is the discernment the Fine Arts are supposed to teach us? Why is there 'American Idol'?”

This exchange, if one could call it that, reminded me of the psychodynamic approach Freud had proposed to the understanding of the origins of creativity, that it arose as a result of man's frustrated desires for fame and fortune, not to mention love. The energy that had been tied up previously in this frustration, this emotional tension became sublimated into creative activity. Though Freud later retracted his ideas about this, this maniac sitting across from me certainly was doing his best to fit the image.

“In the end, it is Art, Faith and Mankind combining together that somehow symbolizes the limitless human potential that leads to Hope, the power that Art can unleash, that all-assuaging balm that consoles, inspires, heals, that holds us together – our civilization!” He took a bow as if I had applauded him.

My pawns were definitely being underutilized and so I decided to open my front line by moving my far left pawn out into a3. The longer I could draw this out, the better chances I had of surviving the match.

“We can't even come up with terms to attempt to define these ideas and images and even when we do, we can't keep them straight over the eons. Take 'sophism,' for example. To the Greeks, sophistēs meant one who 'does' wisdom, who makes a business out of being wise – in other words, teachers of philosophy. But today, 'sophism' means a confusing or illogical argument intended to deceive someone. But of course, our attitude towards philosophers today would probably mean it's pretty much the same thing...” He nodded his head in self-agreement as he let the thought trail off rhetorically.

It was not that he paused to think about his move while saying this: it was more as if he hadn't realized I'd already moved. His King's Bishop now entered the fray. He placed it quickly in c5 and mockingly titled his head to his right when he looked up at me.

“I mean, where is the logic in that?” He folded his hands in front of him, patiently waiting for my next move. “For instance, the problem with pure atonality – or shouldn't we be calling it pantonality, really – is that it lacks any sense of reference, not just a point of resolution. (Okay, I admit: let's say people who have problems accepting what they think of as 'atonality.') But by removing the magnetic pole of tonality, they are lost without a compass. Now, while you can fight all you want against the pull of tonality's magnetic power – and so much great music does this quite dramatically – you are merely thrashing about in the air with nothing to react to, nothing to oppose you. And, rudderless, you bounce adrift from one punch after another.”

“I've often thought,” I said, throwing myself into the argument more confidently, here, “that if you took the best underlying qualities of tonality and applied them to a freely chromatic style that could absorb the traditional concepts of tension and release, you would have a more systematized approach to writing with all twelve tones – not in a serial sense but not in an entirely 'atonal' sense, either.”

“True,” he said without seriously contemplating what I'd said, “everything can be viewed through the philosophical conflict and resolution of the Dialectic except, having been invalidated by its adoption to Marxist and Communist principles, it's no longer seriously regarded – a musical version of Evolution, if you will – one that can itself be expressed in an on-going dialectic formula. Isn't the problem one of the constant conflict of opposing viewpoints never leading to any kind of perfective resolution since that really becomes an unobtainable goal, every resolution becoming a new contradiction that never ends?”

“But did it matter,” I pretended to counter, “since the idea – at least stylistically – was to come up with a solution for 'now' since no matter what we decided to do today, the next decade, the next generation would in turn come up with a new antithesis to prolong the cycle, anyway?”

Without any fanfare, I placed my King's Knight in f3. Though it was directly in line with his Queen, it was also protected by a lowly pawn. I began wondering if maybe it wouldn't be better just to get this over with when he just as quietly nudged another pawn into d6.

“Of course, the Jains use a construction that deliciously describes statements like this as 'maybe it is, maybe it isn't' as well as 'maybe it's indescribable.'” Again, he laughed, adding “That's enough to blow the cerebral cortex of any Western brain mired in logic.”

Figuring I should start loosening things up behind my front line, I slipped my Queen into d2 and he immediately swept his Bishop into e6. Suddenly, I saw that I could take that bishop with my own bishop back on b3 so I quickly did that and he just as quickly took my bishop with his pawn in f7 which I had completely overlooked. So far, it was the fastest two moves of the game and while I had managed to take a knight and a bishop of his, he now had both my bishops. Still, the casualties were rather light and the game was not about who ends up inflicting the most casualties.

Placing my newly captured bishop to the side of the board, he added in a conspiratorial tone, “There is, however, a dark side to creativity, you know, as one writer put it: 'a quest for a radical autonomy apart from the constraint of social responsibility.' By encouraging creativity, we encourage a departure from the existing values that make up our society with its norms and expectations, don't we? But these are expectations society feels everyone should conform to – and yet conformity is the sort of thing that runs afoul of the very spirit of creativity. Without this need for conformity, a composer like Beethoven could feel free to no longer write like Haydn or Schoenberg like Wagner, hmm? But by stressing the constraints of these rules and orders, by rote learning and the loyal adherence to tried-and-true formulas, isn't our current approach to education, as Sir Ken Robinson argues, 'educating people out of their creativity'?”

With that, I decided to castle my King, placing it in g1, for whatever reason other than it seemed the next best thing to making up something entirely counter to the standard laws of chess completely. Not a very bold move, perhaps, but it still stopped my opponent in his thoughts, even if only for a few seconds.

“It is important,” I added, “to learn the process in order to understand why the ground rules work in the first place, but once we understand 'why' the rules are what they are, whether they work or only appear to work for conventions' sake, we can then bend and adapt or actually break them if we have some alternative to put in their place.” At this point, I saw no reason why my tone couldn't be just as obfuscatory as his.

“Ah, as the Italians say, Imparte l'arte, e metilla da parte 'Learn the craft, then put it aside.' Very good, as far as it goes. But without genius, craft is only a paradigm of acceptable procedures, just as without craft, genius is merely attempting to find some wheel that needs reinventing, no?”

I rather blithely moved a pawn into h3 and he, as if deep in contemplation moved his Knight from f6 back to d7, though he uncharacteristically kept his fingers on it while he apparently worked out several possible alternatives.

Instead of leaving it there or returning it to f6, he then very quickly traced two quick moves, first over to e5 then leaving it in f3 before announcing quite gleefully, “Check, I do believe!”

“But,” I spluttered... that goes against The Rules, doesn't it?

“What's the matter, Dr. Dick?” he asked leaning forward with a menacing scowl. “Can't you stand it when someone thinks outside the box?” I could feel his hot breath on my forehead. “You've never heard of the Warnsdorff Algorithm?”

“You're making that up – right? Wait... what did you say... Warnsdorff?”

Howard Zendler's parting comment – asking Robertson to “give my regards to Warnsdorff” – had been playing through the background of my mind like a tape loop of George M. Cohan's song, “Give My Regards to Broadway.” There's a reference in the song's second verse to the Waldorf Hotel – was that what Zendler meant and I just didn't hear it correctly? And what was the significance of that, anyway? Coming from most other centenarians, it would easily have been something to brush off and ignore. Who – or what – was Warnsdorff? And here was this brutish troglodyte also mentioning Warnsdorff.

“Uhm... I've recently heard the name Warnsdorff, yes... but I didn't know he had an algorithm.” Knowing Zendler, it would no doubt be a very complex rhythm.

My adversary, no longer sounding cordial but like one on the verge of the maniacal, held the chess piece up, shaking it in front of my face. “It is a process by which one can determine the potential moves of a knight from any given square on the board, helpful in solving the classic problem known as 'The Knight's Tour.' Does that ring any bells, Dr. Dick, hmmm?” He was now glowering at me, eyeball to eyeball, as he taped my wrists back on the arms of the chair.

Damn. The limerick mentions 'a night's tour' but it was transliterated into Greek phonetically: maybe he meant a 'KNIGHT'S' tour?

“I remember reading about the Knight's Tour when I was reading – or trying to read – Georges Perec's 'Life: A User's Manual,' which takes the reader through every room in this Parisian apartment building but basing the order of the chapters on a Knight's Tour through the building's floor plans...”

“Yes, a seemingly arbitrary glimpse in time into everybody's lives at the very moment of the tenant Bartlebooth's death!” He leaned forward more ominously, the Beethoven statue now in his left hand, almost as if he would hit me over the head with it. He swept away the chess board and the little table in one menacing sweep.

I began in a small, pale, sing-songy voice: “A knight's tour would make Dante chortle / To climb past the fourth ring immortal...”

“What the...?” He stopped and looked at me as if I might suddenly infect him with a deadly virus by my mere proximity.

“No, no, from the limerick in faux-Greek on Beethoven's back. It's phonetic and I thought it was a 'night's tour,' not a 'KNIGHT'S tour' with the silent K.” Reaching for the statue to point these out to him, I added, “and what was that strange thing on the base?” The last images I saw before passing out in his hallway upstairs were beginning to come back to me: some kind of diagram on the base that had been hidden under a green baize cover which must have popped off when it hit the floor. No one had thought to look there – except possibly Mr. Zendler. Hadn't I seen him snap the cover back on the base before setting it down?

“You saw that – and didn't tell me?”

You were the one who wanted to play chess...”

“Your time,” he hissed, “is quickly running out.” He stood up to his full ghastly height. “Lord, I am surrounded by maladroits.” As he turned to leave, he announced he had to go pee. “But when I return, you will have figured this out – or else!

And with that he slammed the door which, in a normal room, would have been deafening but in this sound-proofed chamber was nothing more than a dull thbbbb.

Now the question on my mind was "how long will it take a monster like that to pee?" when I should've been concentrating on more important issues.

- - - - - - -
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'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 35

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Leahy-Hu and her agents have staked out Verdi Square (a scene that includes the infamous "Hu's on First" skit) while Dr. Dick & LauraLynn rush to Dhabbodhú's house to rescue her brother only to find it is not quite what they had expected...

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

= = = = = = =

LauraLynn Sullivan figured out she was falling but didn't know why.

Instead of talking to the security guard in the dining room, she was peeling herself up off the floor of a very strange room. While the floor was only barely padded – thank you for that, whoever you are – the lighting was intensely red and the music intensely annoying. It was almost impossible to make anything out in the strange light but she figured maybe this was supposed to be a short-cut to where they'd found Robertson. Trying to regain her breath, she began looking around but then realized she seemed to be stuck to the floor.

Despite the pain she felt in her joints, she realized that though the floor may have been padded, it was more like a giant sheet of fly-paper! All she could think of was... spider!

“LauraLynn,” I shouted out after her as I reached the edge of the hole in the floor she had just fallen through.

There was a groan and a loud thud behind me. I turned to see Agent Voo collapsing onto the hallway floor, some kind of kitchen utensil sticking through her neck and blood flowing everywhere! How did this happen? Did she trip on the runner and impale herself while eating a snack?

I turned back to the hole and stretched my arm down toward LauraLynn lying on the floor but of course it would've been impossible to pull her back up even if my arms had been long enough to reach her.

And then she screamed.

I turned to look and there, standing over me, was a huge, bald, totally tattooed and nearly naked hulk of a man glaring down at me with intense hatred, something not entirely easy to accomplish when you're wearing black boxers covered with big shiny smiley faces wearing crowns against a background of stars.

Just then, the security agent who so far had not bothered to move to help any of us toppled out of her chair and onto the floor. I had not noticed her feet had been bound with duct tape. Judging from the look of horror on her face, I suspect she'd seen a lot more than I just did before he killed her.

I had a very bad feeling about what might happen next.

Suddenly – zaap! – there was a burst of pain in my back as my body stiffened like a board, the mother of all back spasms. I could no longer move my arms or legs, in fact couldn't move anything but yet the whole time I was completely aware of what was going on around me.

I dropped the tote-bag and the statue of Beethoven as Zeus the Thunderer clattered across the floor toward the opening. I tried reaching for it so it wouldn't fall and conk LauraLynn on the head but I was unable to move. It was then I saw it.

Well, I wasn't really sure what it was. It must have always been on the base of the statue, something on the underside no one had noticed before.

But wait – I recalled Mr. Zendler looking at it as he turned the statue around in his hands, admiring it as I talked with Leahy-Hu in the laundry room. He had smiled just as he put it down, popping the green felt bottom thingee back on the base after it had come loose. Then what was it he said to me as we left? Telling Robertson to give his regards to... to Warnsdorff?

Was he trying to warn me that... what, “dorf” in German means “village,” right? “It takes a village to...?” Was there a village idiot on the loose?

“Ah, by Jove, I think I've got it!”

And then there was more pain. That's all she wrote...

*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER XV *** ***** ******** ***** ***

“Fortunately,” he said to know one in particular, “the rent-a-maids don't come in till Friday.” Tr'iTone stood in his vestibule, carefully closing the front door behind him, and looked down the hallway before him.

There was the body of a black-clad ICA agent he'd just killed by stabbing her in the neck with the first thing he had grabbed as he went to wait for them – a long-handled silver salad spork. There was blood everywhere so it would require caution walking around her. Just before the trapdoor in the dining room's archway was sprawled the finally rigid form of Dr. Dick who had for some time already been yelling senselessly, a typical tourette's-like response to being tasered, tossing F-bombs around with the agility of a rap star but to no avail.

From the basement, he could still hear the helpless yelling of LauraLynn Sullivan who was gradually becoming aware of the fact no one was going to rescue her, either. And just beyond the trapdoor lay the rumpled form of the agent from Doolittle & DeLay who unfortunately had died before the phone call came in from Dr. Dick which forced him to resort to another clever vocal disguise which he hoped didn't sound too similar to Zachary Zeitgeist. “Apparently not,” he said, looking down at the prone form of his adversary, who had easily fallen into his trap.

Especially LauraLynn whose ranting was beginning to get on his nerves. Before her antics should annoy the neighbors as well, despite his attempts at soundproofing his basement, he strode over to the trapdoor, looked down at her struggling form stuck to the large pad of industrial strength fly-paper and gave her a taste of the taser, also. After a few minutes of screaming obscenities, she too was reduced to a state nearly comparable to suspended animation, though her whimpering was not much of an improvement, just quieter.

Next, knowing there wasn't much time if the ICA knew where he lived, Tr'iTone kicked the body of agent Rhonda Voo over and deftly removed the different communication devices embedded into her uniform, reaching almost automatically for the brass statue on the floor that had spilled out of Dr. Dick's tote bag. He was about to smash these things with the base of the statue when he recognized it from the one photo D'Arcy had e-mailed him.

The replica of Max Klinger's infamous Beethoven Monument!!

He held it aloft in triumph.

“I, formerly Zoose, now possess – finally – the statue of Beethoven as Zeus!”

He quickly looked it over, his body practically shivering with anticipation as he ran his fingers across the finely etched surface of Beethoven's skin with its myriad tattoos. There was the faint scratching of the Verdi-in-a-Box clue that had also been an attachment to D'Arcy's e-mail.

“So that's why they wanted me to go to Verdi Square. 'Falstaff enters here.' Indeed – at the northeast corner, too. But I don't need to go there, now, since I now have the statue itself. They can wait for me all night long, if they want – gives me more time, here.”

And with that, he grabbed Dr. Dick by the feet, dragging him through the living room toward the secret entrance that led less precipitously to his basement lair.

In the meantime, the announcer on the classical music station he had tuned his radio to was going on about how no composer of the past century has ever managed to create a work of art as enduring as anything left behind by the likes of Mozart or Beethoven in what he referred to as the Golden Age.

“And why do you think that is, Dr. Dick?” Tr'iTone looked down casually at the now limp, senseless form he had dragged across the floor. “Could it be – SATAN!?”

He held up the statue of Beethoven as if showing it to the unseen announcer who babbled on about beauty and the mysteries of artistic creativity.

“Very soon, I will have those very same 'Old Secrets' from the Golden Age and then you will be hearing MY name among those in that pantheon of classics you prefer.”

Looking down at the prone form on the floor, he asked “Do you realize what has perverted composers from the paths of Creative Truth?” He dropped the leg he was dragging him by which clattered to the floor with a resounding whack and enumerated the ways on the fingers of his left hand.

“One – Hubris, particularly in the Romantic Era with its super-ego of the artist as Creator (with a capital C). Two – Hatred, especially the result of the politicization of aesthetic styles which went back even before the feuds of the French Baroque, much less the internecine bickering of the late-20th Century. Three – Impatience, that success was necessary even before the talent had had a chance to settle in and mature. Four – and most significantly – Greed, the selling of one's artistic soul to achieve popular acclaim and financial reward!”

He reached down and brusquely picked up his captive's leg again and proceeded to drag him toward the fireplace.

“Meanwhile, Art has become so replete with charlatans that true creative geniuses like myself struggle to create without recognition or acceptance, confined to failure by the very essence of their integrity.”

One could argue the sin of hubris was apparently lost on him as it often was on those who considered themselves more righteous than the righteous: impatience and hatred might also be called into question, much less vanity, but never mind.

“Others are weak: only those who are unwilling to make that ultimate sacrifice will succeed in failing. The true artist,” he bellowed, “must understand how to suffer for his art.” Becoming much calmer, now, he continued, “but to appreciate his own suffering, “he must first make his performers suffer, then make his listeners suffer. And then,” he said, punching a stone on the side with his foot, “he will begin to understand how he himself must suffer.”

The fireplace, opening slowly, creaked into position, revealing on the right side a dark and empty-looking entranceway that ominously led to the basement below.

As it slowly swung back into place, one could faintly hear demonic laughter disappearing into the darkness as the radio began playing “Spring” from Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

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

“Okay, so I'm sitting here beside Verdi Square yet you're telling me there's no place around here associated with anything to do with music?” Director Leahy-Hu puffed irritably on another cigarette, the pile of stamped-out butts at her feet seeming to grow exponentially as she continued her wait.

“Not on Verdi Square. The square was established as a park in 1887, the statue was dedicated in 1906 as part of the monuments project with an Italian-American foundation headed by businessman Carlo Barsotti, the editor of Il Progresso Italo Americano who also raised funds for Columbus Circle and...”

She interrupted cryptographer Haydn Plainview. “Yes, yes, that's fine, but what kind of secret organizations related to music might have been involved with the square?”

Plainview's hemming and hawing sounded like he was stalling but he was only scrolling through the various hits he'd gotten googling the subject matter at his computer.

“There's the Sherman Square Studios, a 14-story building at 160 W.73rd Street, opened in 1929 and built by Walter Russell as a music colony with sound-proofed rooms, it says here, similar to the artists colony built at W.67th called 'Hôtel des Artistes,' famous for its large, spacious painters studios. Hmmm, says that Samuel Barber held a party there – this on W.73rd – to preview his wind quintet 'Summer Music' before publishing it in 1956 and – oh, get this, organist Hugh McAmis rented a corner studio on the top floor in 1934 and installed a Möller pipe organ in it: Virgil Fox played the opening recital on it for invited friends and students.”

“Great, I can just imagine living next to something like that,” Leahy-Hu whined.

“Oh, I'm sure it was state-of-the-art sound-proofing like you'd find in any well designed broadcasting station or recording studio today. Wait, here's something else – of course, there's the Ansonia on the northwest corner of the Square. Huh...” There was a pause while he scrolled through the basic architectural and historical information about its grand old Parisian-style opulence. “Some of the tenants who stayed or lived there include Caruso, Chaliapin, Lily Pons, Toscanini, Stravinsky, Sol Hurok... Considering the Gershwins also lived down the street on Riverside Drive, the area has a very strong association with famous musicians.”

“I wonder if they had a secret club room somewhere: perhaps that's where this 'map,' as everybody seems to think it is, is pointing us toward?” Leahy-Hu was still skeptical but any maniac who abducted a person famous on the classical music scene and not only cut off his ear but displayed it publicly must, using the term loosely, be taking it seriously as well.

“Ah.” Plainview's pause was more engaging this time. “This could be something: next to the Ansonia on 73rd is the old 'Level Club,' though it's been a hotel and now a residential building. Wow.” He whistled, then explained it was because they had a three-bedroom condo available for almost $4,000,000.

“Get on with it, Agent Plainview: though it's taking all night, I haven't got all night.”

“Okay, let's see... It was built in 1927 as the 'Level Club' by a group of Masons and though it was originally open only to members of their lodge, it eventually became a hotel for any Masons visiting New York City. Many secret masonic symbols are embedded into the byzantine architectural style and... oh, it foreclosed in 1931. But still...”

“A secret society that displays its symbols in public... an order of the Masons.” She sounded very thoughtful on this news. “Dr. Dick mentioned that Italian saying carved into the back of Mozart's head – when it was still just a headless Mozart bobble-head doll – that 'Everything will be found within the Order'... The Italian-Americans who organized a square honoring Verdi... in the heart of an area well-known to great musicians the world over... and a masonic order builds an elite hotel for its members. It's not limited to just Masons, now, is it, Agent Plainview?”

“No, it doesn't seem to be, sir... ma'am,” he quickly corrected himself. You could hear him flinch, awaiting a response from his gaffe.

“But we must wait here until our... 'client' shows up. We had arranged to meet him at Verdi Square, but perhaps the actual entrance to the 'order' is somewhere in the Level Club? He is, however, intolerably late.” She looked around, smacking her lips as she stubbed out yet another cigarette. “Our goal is to stop this maniac from obtaining his goal. The actual location of these 'old secrets' is something that will have to wait.”

She regretted having had left the statue with Dr. Dick: it might still come in handy. She began to wonder if in fact they had all the information from it they needed. But still, finding a place so near their location dedicated to and even built by an ancient secret order...

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

Dr. Dick started coming to with the sense he had nasty rug burns on the back of his head and across the back of his shoulders. Beside that, even after he'd opened his eyes, wherever he was, it was pitch black and not only silent but soundless: his own groans sounded like they were coming from way far away.

Then he realized he was sitting on something that was very cold against his skin.

Against my skin?! What the...? He tried moving his back and shoulders as if to position himself more comfortably and felt the cold touch of plastic, perhaps one of those ubiquitous polyurethane patio chairs that pass for lawn furniture these days.

I'm in a lawn chair and I'm naked? Where – in the middle of Central Park or something? No, he figured it was too quiet to be outdoors. Besides, it didn't feel that cold out. He was probably in a room but it felt like a fairly small one. But where?

And how did I get naked? Better yet, he wondered, how did he get naked and get these nasty rug burns on his back? That was certainly something you'd think you'd remember, especially when your an overweight man like Dr. Dick somewhere in late middle-age.


Then certain images started coming back to him: the sight of LauraLynn disappearing suddenly through the floor, seeing the ICA agent collapsing with some kind of long-handled kitchen utensil protruding through her neck – let's see, if she fell forward, that meant she was stabbed from behind – but by who and with what, a salad fork? – the security agent they must have just talked to on the phone falling to the floor, bound and gagged, with her expression frozen in one of eternal fear and obviously already dead.

Ah, what happened to Beethoven? He looked around but could see nothing in the absolute darkness.

Oh yes, and one more image: the silhouette of a man so huge and muscularly misshapen, bald, heavily tattooed, almost completely naked and very, very nasty looking even with those silly boxers – something like your worst nightmare or, depending on your viewpoint, your wildest fantasy.

Who was this man? Probably some out-of-work actor who never even got a call-back from his audition for Beauty and the Beast.

Dr. Dick tried to squirm and found his feet were tied together and his hands were strapped down to the arms of the chair. Duct tape? That meant if he could stand up, assuming he could escape at all, he should be fairly easy to spot: a naked man hopping down Columbus Avenue duct-taped to a piece of plastic lawn furniture. Sigh...

But his mouth was neither taped shut nor gagged. He called out – “Yo! A little help, here?” – which seemed to be swallowed up in the emptiness of the space he was in. Was it a small room? And if so, how small? And then he wondered how long would he be able to breathe?

And for that matter, why am I talking in the third person, now? What he didn't realize was, he was having an out-of-narrator experience.

Not far away was LauraLynn Sullivan. Tr'iTone had peeled her off the padded fly-paper, leaving her once beautiful dove-gray and deep purple leaf pattern, over-the-shoulder knee-length cocktail dress by Belle Ennui a tattered mess. But the state of her dress was hardly something she had time to complain about.

The evil tattooed man leered down at her, lying on the floor bound and gagged and hurting like hell. The light had gone from a fiery red to a searing orange and the smell of incense was nearly overpowering. There, behind him, hung this huge velvet painting but she couldn't quite focus on what it was – certainly not Elvis. And there was something else, another smell she couldn't quite place. What was it, like dried... yes, that's it, dried blood.

She thought she would vomit.

And then he said “We actually have a lot in common, you know. I think we shall have a very pleasant evening, you and I, talking about your science and my art. Like they say, 'You show me yours and I'll show you mine.'”

The walls rocked to the burst of laughter he let loose.

And now she knew she would vomit.

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

ICA Agent Tamara Bumdier listened to Director Leahy-Hu in her headset and decided to have a look at what she was talking about. Nothing was happening at her post, anyway, except for Officer LeJour busting a couple of old pervs who were trying to pick them up while they were on stake-out, just hanging around by the bank entrance doing nothing, otherwise.

Crap! She's right!

“Yes, ma'am, it is a very ornate building, very different from the Ansonia – kind of a Byzantine or neo-Romanesque style, I guess, but lots of detail in the architecture that could be masonic symbolism – probably easier to spot in the daylight, I'm sure.”

“Anything suspicious going on around it?”

“Just the usual bunch of people back and forth late on a Wednesday night – nobody anybody'd confuse for the Incredible Hulk, though.”

“Good. You keep an eye on that and leave the others at the bank to keep an eye on the park. I have a feeling if our maniac-of-interest knows this building is right off the square, he may just skip the meeting we'd set up in the park with D'Arcy.”

Agent Bumdier agreed.

Then Leahy-Hu asked everybody on the circuit if they'd heard anything from Agent Rhonda Voo: she should've checked in from W.69th Street by now. Agent Lott noted the Director had asked her to call her directly, but no, no one else had heard anything from her, so far.

Leahy-Hu checked her watch again and decided, if nothing else, it was time for another cigarette. “Probably nothing,” she concluded somewhat uneasily.

Agent Bumdier wasn't so sure.

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

Dr. Dick sat tied to his plastic lawn chair and tried to think of ways that might help keep him from freaking out: sitting in his back yard on a moonless night or maybe in a concert in the park oblivious of everyone around him. He tried to think of a piece of music he might hear in a summer park concert he'd want to listen to but eventually decided on the Beethoven Violin Concerto, letting it unfold its leisurely pace through the music-player in his mind.

This is the way people deal with taking an MRI, right? or maybe lying under the rubble of an earthquake while waiting to be rescued.

But it wasn't working: for some reason, the Beethoven kept morphing into the bird songs and fluttering breezes of Vivaldi's “Spring” but distorted and with endless repetitions, a heavily modulated tape-loop that in fact was having the exact opposite effect from what he'd hoped to achieve.

- - - - - - -

LauraLynn, looking around her limited view, focused on a pile of familiar-looking clothes on the floor not far away: a black turtle-neck, a rumpled blue blazer and a pair of gray slacks with suspenders in a piano keyboard pattern.

“Dr. Dick's clothes! What have you done with Dr. Dick?” You pervert...

As he went about his preparations, Tr'iTone calmly pointed at the black box propped up against the one wall. What looked like a window was even painted black. “You can yell all you like, he won't be able to hear you.” He had taken the gag out of her mouth but regretted his change of heart.

She started yelling at him again so he leaned forward and stuffed the gag back in her mouth. You always were a bitch.

- - - - - - -

Dr. Dick thought he heard voices in the distance, but thought it was another memory from before he went all unconscious: LauraLynn falling through the floor, calling up for help, him reaching into the hole trying to rescue her before realizing some thing was standing behind him.

Then he heard something else and knew the Vivaldi wasn't coming from inside his brain: it was being piped into the otherwise silent chamber.

It wasn't really Vivaldi, but something Vivaldi-like – similar to that annoying diamond commercial from years ago that gradually morphed into a new age soundscape with gently rocking synthesized drumbeats and a broad expansive chord slowly pulsating behind the original pseudo-Vivaldi harmonies until the Baroque-like music was completely subsumed in the new. The chords were now being hummed by a synthesized sampling of genderless voices, a colorless chorus of computer-generated eunuchs.

No! He's trying to kill me!

He squinched his ears shut and tried to imagine the Beethoven louder and louder, hoping to drown it out but it wouldn't work. It cost too much effort and he knew it would only raise his blood pressure to unacceptable levels.

He sighed, not knowing what he could do, now...

- - - - - - -
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'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 34

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") when our heroes called Dhabbodhú, but get a security agent at his house instead, telling them a man with an ear missing has been asking about them – just as they are about to leave the laundry room, they're intercepted by Leahy-Hu and her officers.

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

= = = = = = =

Now it seemed all we had to do was sit around the laundry room, waiting for D'Arcy's phone to ring. LauraLynn and I had given up begging to be let go so we could get to Robertson before the security agents left Dhabbodhú's place – what would they do with him, just leave him there? take him away to a hospital? Did anyone contact the NYPD to send officers there to apprehend Dhabbodhú when he returned, assuming he would ever return, now? And where was he, anyway?

For my part, I was trying not to dwell on D'Arcy's apparent treachery and he, for his part, avoided looking in my direction, just staring at his phone lying on the folding table. Detective Ho was copying down the statue's different tattoos onto a piece of note paper. No one else spoke a word.

The silence, such as it could be in a New York City basement room with windows opening out onto a view of the sidewalk above, was broken by the blustering of an old man's familiar but irritated voice being led out of the elevator.

“I don't know what this has to do with me – I'm, you know... an old man, I need my rest. You don't have to push me to...”

And then, when he entered the room, escorted by the janitor and a couple of ICA agents, Howard Zendler saw us and smiled meekly, sitting down without further complaint in a chair near the door.

I told him that we'd found out Robertson is safe if not exactly “okay” and looked questioningly over at Leahy-Hu, wondering why they had brought Mr. Zendler all the way down here. Before she could answer, D'Arcy's phone began to ring.

Odd he would have chosen the one line from Schoenberg's Moses und Aron that Moses, whose part is otherwise written in sprechstimme, that odd more-spokend-than-sung declamation, actually sings. “Reinige dein Denken,” he warns Aaron, “Purify your thinking, free it from worthless things.” Indeed.

At the core of the opera's philosophical debate, religion aside, is the argument between the idea which is inexpressible and the need to find some way to express it to the masses, Schoenberg's “Folk,” the massive chorus that is such a prominent force in the opera. Moses may be better at thinking than speaking, which is why he's engaged his silver-tongued brother Aaron as his spokesman. But as is typical of many spokesmen, he doesn't really comprehend the idea and ends up creating an image – the Golden Calf, in this case – which will only succeed in perverting Moses' thought. It is easy to believe, accurately or not, that this was Schoenberg's own dilemma, trying to balance the dichotomy of the creative process and his “Theory of Composing with Twelve Tones” with something that could be made accessible to listeners so they could understand what he was trying to do.

At that point, Mr. Zendler saw the Beethoven statue on the table and pointed at it with a shaky finger. I put a finger to my lips and gestured for him to wait a moment.

LauraLynn looked at me expectantly, probably not because she understood the deeper significance of his ringtone. She knew it must be Dhabbodhú on the line. You could feel the sudden tension in the room as everyone leaned forward.

“Well, Mr. D'Arcy?” Leahy-Hu walked over and stood beside him. “Show time! Break a leg – figuratively speaking... or perhaps literally.” She punctuated this with a snapping gesture using both hands.

D'Arcy took a deep breath and picked up the phone.

“It's now Wednesday morning, Mr. D'Arcy.” We could hear the chillingly familiar voice as D'Arcy held the phone out at a slight angle. “You know, another few minutes and Robertson would have resolved himself to the Great Big Deceptive Cadence in the Sky, I'm afraid. So good of you to call.”

“Uhm, yes, well... I...”

The voice cut him off with studied disinterest. “So this Beethoven statue you photographed, what exactly is that?”

“It was inside the Mozart gizmo. There are additional clues engraved on it.”

“Such as...?”

“If you meet me at Verdi Square, I'll give you the transcript I've made of the clues on the statue. They're fairly self-explanatory.”

I tried not to laugh.

“Verdi Square? At 72nd & Broadway? I'm not far from there. I'll be there in ten minutes, maybe less.”

“I'm... uh, a little further away at the moment but I could be there in maybe twenty.”

“And alone, too,” Dhabbodhú added cautiously with a threatening snarl. “Any sign of those special agents or the local gendarmerie and your friend will suddenly find himself smack up against a double bar. I've already cut off one ear, you see: I can just as easily put a bullet through the other one.”

LauraLynn sat back smugly, convinced it was all a gruff façade – she'd talked to the security agent back at his house: Robertson's already been rescued. She stuck her tongue out toward the phone.

“You should meet me at the northeast corner of the square.”

“Mr. D'Arcy, Verdi Square is not that big – I'm sure we'll find each other easily enough at this time of night. But as you wish. I will meet you there in twenty minutes, then: you'd better hurry. I don't intend to wait too long.” And with a bitter laugh, he hung up.

Well, yeah, if you want the clues, you'll wait that long – maybe longer.

It was impossible to make eye contact with D'Arcy as he stuffed the papers Det. Ho handed him into a pocket. They quickly hustled him out of the room without a word.

Zendler came over and sat down to look at the statue, picking it up to look over it front and back. “This is astounding, you know. Who would, I mean... ever think something like this... and yet there it was, inside the other one – the idea versus the image, and all that, as our friend Moses was just telling us.” He winked at me.

LauraLynn and I again pleaded with Leahy-Hu to let us go see Robertson at Dhabbodhú's brownstone: there really was little we could do, at this point.

Reluctantly, she agreed, assigning one of her newer agents, Rhonda Voo, to go with us.

“Keep an eye on these clowns, Agent Voo, and don't let anyone else talk to Robertson Sullivan until I get back from this escapade at Verdi Square. The night isn't over yet and I have a feeling the work isn't near done, either.” With that, she turned and left with the others.

Zendler put the statue back down on the table.

“Buzz,” I asked him, “would you help Mr. Zendler back up to his apartment? Then you can come up to Dhabbodhú's place and meet us there.” LauraLynn scribbled down the address and gave it to him.

“Ah, yes, thank you – you know, I've been a very naughty boy, staying up this late. I'm afraid my Piano Quintet might be very different tomorrow from what I had planned on doing at the end of today's work...”

I offered my hand to Zendler for a farewell handshake and he took it in both of his. And he looked at me intently as he said, “I'm sure you'll get to the bottom of this very soon, now... Please tell Robertson I send my best – and ask him to give my regards to Warnsdorff, will you?”

Warnsdorff? I wondered if perhaps the great man were not a little too tired, after all, but I nodded and said I would be sure to do that, assuming Robertson would understand the reference.

With a quick glance at LauraLynn and our latest keeper, Agent Voo, I scooped up the statue and put it back in the tote-bag.

“Yes,” Zendler said, “yes, I'm glad you've not given that to this fellow you've been talking about, our villain-of-the-night.”

“I'm not sure what exactly's going on, any more, after finding out D'Arcy was apparently planning on turning the information over to him in the first place and now the police are giving him the clues, any way. But it looks like I'm still the keeper of his statue, so I'll just return it to Robertson, safe and sound. I'm glad my role in these exploits is over.”

“Oh, I'm sure you are!”

LauraLynn grabbed my arm impatiently and urged us all to hurry. There was still, if nothing else, little time to spare.

And with that, Agent Voo was soon hurrying us north through the streets of Manhattan, practically flying toward W.69th Street.

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

There is a tiny patch of grass and trees between 72nd & 73rd Streets where Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue intersect that most people could easily overlook as they hurry to and from the subway station there. Even fewer might know it is called Verdi Square and that the statue hidden within its trees is a monument to the great Italian composers of operas like Aida or La Traviata.

Made of Carrara marble and limestone, the statue by Pasquale Civiletti was erected on Columbus Day in 1906, just five years after Verdi died, whether they were aware it was also a few days off from what could have been his 93rd birthday. It was part of a city-wide celebration of Italian culture that had also established the much grander Columbus Circle just to the south fourteen years earlier as part of the 400th Anniversary Celebration of Columbus' arrival in the New World. Businessman Carlo Barsotti may be forgotten today, but he was instrumental in establishing monuments around the city to honor the likes not only of Verdi and Columbus but also in 1888 to Garibaldi in Washington Square Park and in 1921 to Dante Alighieri in front of what would later become Lincoln Center.

In the 1960s and '70s, the park had fallen on bad times, a frequent haunt of drug traffickers better known locally as “Needle Park.” Imagine what addicts shooting up in the statue's shadow would have thought if they were suddenly to hear strains from Verdi's most popular operas emanating from speakers suspended among the trees: that at least had been one of the plans bandied about to help make the area safer. It wasn't until 2002 that the park found renewed life with the building of a second entrance to the 72nd Street subway station and the park was redesigned and re-landscaped.

On this November night, the air was crisp and the park almost completely empty despite the steady post-midnight traffic nearby. In the hurried drive uptown, D'Arcy had been outfitted with a “wire” while wireless Cobra headsets, SWAT-team mics and receivers, were outfitted for Director Leahy-Hu and several officers from the NYPD's WACKO Division wearing scruffy night-camouflage and ready to take down someone already described as a Human Hulk.

The van parked casually on 72nd just west of Broadway as various agents quietly fanned out across the park's immediate vicinity. Agents Andrea Watt was sent to cover the corner by the old Renaissance fortress on 73rd Street that was now the Apple Bank along with Apache and Tesorro while Agent Elise Eidonneau joined Barb Dwyer who was hanging out with the late night crowd around Gray's Papaya at 72nd & Amsterdam. Agent Tamara Bumdier went over to where Wanda Menveaux and DePuis LeJour were posted in front of the Chase bank just below the Ansonia, one of the more ornate buildings in the neighborhood. Basically, they had the place more or less surrounded: it would be very difficult for someone as large as Dr. Iobba Dhabbodhú was reported to be to slip through their efficiently executed net.

D'Arcy checked over the sheet of paper he'd been handed and took a deep breath before sauntering off toward the northeast entrance. Leahy-Hu was delighted to see such great cooperation between her ICA agents and the NYPD officers, wrapped in some old blankets like a homeless person and seating herself discreetly on a bench by the subway station's entrance with a good view of much of the park before her. Detective Telly Ho stayed back in the van, coordinating things with ICA's dispatcher, Agent Aida Lott.

“Showtime,” Leahy-Hu said into her mic, “everybody's in place. Now – we just wait for the Big Guy.” She lit a cigarette and surveyed the scene with studied indifference.

Meanwhile, Detective Ho was trying to explain to Agent Lott the distribution of the various wireless headsets.

“You mean you can't remember which ones you assigned to which agents?” Lott was trying not to sound superior for all her organizational skills. “Who's on first?”

Ho checked his board. “Yes.”

“I mean the Agent's name.”


“The one on first.”


Agent Lott was getting more and more annoyed. “Right, what's the agent's name with the first headset?”

“No, Watt's on second.”

“I'm not asking you who's on second!”

“And I told you, Hu's on first!”

“You tell me – I don't know...”

“Eidonneau's on third.”

“Wait... what?”

“No, I've already told you Watt's on second.”

“Look,” she said, “you got a fourth headset?”


“Would you tell me the name of the Agent you've assigned to the fourth headset?”

“Tamara.” He had a soft spot for the beautiful Tamara Bumdier.

“No, I need to know it tonight! Who's on the fourth headset?”

“Hu's on first – How many times have I told you that?”

“I dunno...”

“Eidonneau's still on third: it's too late to switch.” He was getting irritated, now.

“Look, the agent on the first headset should be the one giving the orders. So who's giving the orders tonight?




Leahy-Hu took a long slow drag from her cigarette, confident that everything was under control. She was still waiting for a call from Haydn Plainview and hopefully Agent Voo would be calling her soon from W.69th Street: they should have gotten there by now.

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

Yikes! I knew we were in a hurry to see Robertson but getting stopped by the police for speeding or wrapping ourselves around a tree somewhere along Central Park West was not the kind of unexpected delay I cared to see in our immediate future. As we careened in and out of slow moving traffic up 8th Avenue and then around Columbus Circle, I hugged the tote bag with its bulky contents even more tightly to my chest as LauraLynn and I bounced around in the back seat of Agent Voo's car, knocking into each other like we were on an old amusement park ride. What were the chances we'd get there in time – and alive?

Il tutto sará trovato nell'ordine.

Perhaps my life wasn't that well organized to find anything in it, orderly or not. And certainly, thinking about the limerick on Beethoven's back, how would Dante lead me past the Fourth Circle to find an immobile spider?

“LauraLynn, perhaps you remember,” I asked her as our ride reminded me of a bumpy ride straight to Hell, “what is the significance of the Fourth Circle in Dante's Inferno?”

“I was trying to remember that. I think it's the one before the Styx, the last station stop in Upper Hell.”

“Wasn't the Styx the river that you had to cross over to get into Hell?” Mentally, I was comparing what that must have been like compared to the wild ride we were experiencing at the moment.

“Don't you remember your Dante? Tsk tsk... No, the Acheron is the first river in Dante's Hell, and that's where Charon was the boatman in Canto III. The Styx is more like a stagnant swamp in Cantos VII and VIII. But isn't the Fourth Ring the canto that begins with Pluto's cry, 'Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!'?”

“Oh right, I remember that now, whatever it means. This is the circle where the misers battle it out with the wasters, isn't it? those who hoard their wealth and those who squander it?”

“That's the one. A good commentary for our modern materialistic age. Pluto is usually thought of as the Ruler of the Underworld but he was also the god of Material Wealth so he makes a good guardian for them, here. But what do you think the limerick means, then: how does Dante's Fourth Circle fit in with our clues?”

“Well,” I pondered, “there's always the warring factions between those who create their art for the sake of art, maintaining their integrity as opposed to those who pander to popular taste in order to make a buck, perhaps. Isn't this one of the Cantos where Virgil talks about Fortune, and how quickly things change from fame to obscurity? That may be more the point...”

“And climbing past the Fourth Circle – shouldn't we be descending, though? The Fifth Circle is the one with the Wrathful and the Sullen who live submerged in the fetid swamp of the Styx.”

I interrupted her. “Oh, do you think this portal we're looking for is in swampland or something? Or where a swamp might have been before? A place where wrathful and sullen types hang out? Like what – critics?”

“This is it,” Voo announced, the first words she spoke since before we got in the car in what seemed like only minutes before. It was definitely a short ride in a fast machine.

“That's Dhabbodhú's brownstone, right there” she said, pointing to one of many impressive facades along the quiet, tree-lined street. The one she indicated, though, was actually dark gray rather than brown, so I guess you could call it more of a flintstone.

Voo was able to park the car just a few doors beyond the address LauraLynn had given her, but she and I had trouble keeping up with her as LauraLynn sprinted up the steps.

Something struck me as being odd, though. There were no police cars out front, no sign of any vehicle from Doolittle and DeLay, but the front door stood wide open. Were we too late? had everybody left? Or...

LauraLynn barged through the vestibule into the hallway, past the living room toward the middle room where she saw a uniformed security agent sitting, her back to the entrance.

“I'm LauraLynn Sullivan – where's my brother?”

But just as she said that, I saw her disappear right through the floor. There was a flash of deep orangey-red light, a loud burst of music and just as suddenly it too was gone. What the hell...? Who'd have a hell-trap in their dining room? Wouldn't that come in handy with some annoying dinner guests...

- - - - - - -
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'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Tuesday, October 19th.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 33

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's“The Lost Symbol") in which Buzz witnessed the final moments of the World Series' last game while Dr. Dick & LauraLynn witnessed the transformation of the Mozart Bobble-Head Doll into something quite unexpected.

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

= = = = = = =

It may not have been the map we were looking for and it was rather frustrating to realize we were still in need of additional clues to get there, but at least it confirmed there was a portal and we'd have to get past some kind of guardian to get through it.

“With Dante on a tour past the 'fourth ring,' that's probably a reference to something in Dante's Inferno? The fourth circle of Hell? Something deep underground?” LauraLynn was metaphorically scratching her head.

“Or climbing past the last opera of the Ring – Wagner's Götterdämmerung? Which would mean... entering something like Utopia, a whole new society or world order... on earth as it is in Heaven?” I was doing little better.

“A spider guarding a portal from a seeker on a quest...” Buzz made some effort to scratch himself as well.

“I've got it,” he said, slapping his hand palm-down on the table. “Not Wagner's Ring, but another Ring – the Lord of the Rings – Shelob in Tolkein's 'The Two Towers'! Somewhere in New York City, a giant nasty spider is guarding the entrance to... two... towers... that...”

His enthusiasm died quickly as he realized, the spider aside, his reference to two towers came to an end with two towers no longer there: the World Trade Center. Even though he wasn't a New Yorker, himself, Buzz was always saddened by any reference to the World Trade Center towers. And, this time if he were correct, it would also mean the Old Secrets would be buried there along with everything else, or removed with the rest of the rubble once the site had been cleared.

On the other hand, as a continuous thread, the clue gave the impression of being, well... basically, clueless.

LauraLynn started, looking at her watch. “It's almost midnight – you have to call Dr. Dhabbodhú and give him the information. Then he'll set Robertson free.” She sounded no more certain about this than she had about the meaning of the newest clue.

What information?! Looking around, I said “but what am I going to call him on?” Her cell phone had been left back at the lab; Buzz had given me his which I'd left back in the scene shop as a decoy; LauraLynn had thrown D'Arcy's out the window of the cab near Columbus Circle.

“Don't you have your own cell-phone?” She seemed incredulous I would not.

Buzz shook his head, the Ever-Doubting Blogster.

“No,” I explained. “Buzz convinced me to break down and get one last year, but it was one of those new iPossums from RoadApple: every time I went to use it, it just sat there and played dead. Swore I'd never waste time or money on anything like that again.”

“Luddite,” Buzz hissed under his breath.

“Wait.” LauraLynn pointed at a wall-phone by the doorway. “Maybe that one works.”

We hurried over to it and Buzz picked up the receiver to hand to me.

“OMG, it's like an old rotary dial phone. Do those things still work?”

“I think I remember how to use them,” and I started dialing in a number while we held our collective breath.

As it began to ring, Buzz asked me if I was sure I had the right number, knowing my general ineptitude when it came to remembering names or faces or numbers (much less strings of them in your typical phone number).

I explained that, if you converted the numbers into pitches in a chromatic scale, it really was the same as the opening seven pitches of Wagner's Tristan prelude, transposed down a minor third to F-sharp Minor but, instead of Wagner's chromatic passing tone at the end, using the 'upper neighbor' like Spohr did in his aria from Jessonda.

“You mean Ol' Spohr ripped it off from Wagner?” He chuckled at the stupidity of such an obvious act of plagiarism.

“No,” I said, “Wagner wrote Tristan between 1856 and 1859. Ol' Spohr wrote Jessonda in 1822 – do the math.” The phone had started to ring. The tricky part was remembering which area code it was.

Someone answered but didn't say anything.

“Look,” I started somewhat hesitantly, “I have the news you seek, but I can't give it to you until you can give us Robertson Sullivan.”

“Wh... who is this?”

A female voice sounded uncertain and I thought D'oh! It's almost midnight and I got the wrong number! “Er... I was trying to reach... uhm, Dr. Iobba Dhabbodhú. This is Dr. Dick and...”

“Wait – you're Dr. Dick? There's a man here asking for you.”

“Really? And... you are...?”

“I'm Officer Colette O'Day with the Doolittle and DeLay Security Company?” She spoke with one of those trendy, ever-interrogative voice patterns I always found so annoying in any one over the age of 12. “And my partner responded to investigate a 911 call? about this address on W.69th Street? Well, when she didn't return our calls? or even answer her phone? I like came along with back-up? We, uhm... found her body at the back of the building? And... well, we like broke into the house and found it empty? Well, not quite empty...? There's, like, a man here, all tied up? He's in a bad way...?”

I held the phone out so LauraLynn could lean in and hear this as well.

“He's asking for you and a woman named... er... is it Laura? Laura Lynn? Something like that.”

“OMG,” LauraLynn shrieked, “you found my brother? He's alive?” She ripped the phone out of my hand.

“To be truthful, he's like missing an ear, ma'am? but otherwise...?”

“We're just downtown, near Union Square, I guess... we could be there in maybe... 20 minutes?” She sounded more hopeful than realistic.

Yeah, assuming we don't get stuck on a late-night local on the uptown line or find another rogue cab-driver who's going to turn us into the police...

“I guess you'd, like, better hurry? If you'll excuse me? I have to, like, wrap things up here? See you – soon...?” And then she suddenly hung up.

*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER XIV *** ***** ******** ***** ***

We quickly packed the Beethoven statue as well as the shards of the Mozart doll back into the tote-back and hurried toward the stairway, not sure if Leahy-Hu and her agents were still outside or what.

Just at that moment, the elevator door chugged open with a ding and out stepped Leahy-Hu and Agent Furtiva-Lagrima. The stairwell door opened to reveal Agent van Sierre and two officers from the NYPD.

We turned and quickly dashed back into the laundry room only to realize we were being cut off by the door to the janitor's closet that had been left standing open: behind it waited Agent Manina, Sergeant Gerta Demmerol and the shadowy figure of a large man in overalls who turned out to be the building's janitor, Garth Widor.


There was nothing to do but return to the laundry room and wait. I thought of tossing the tote-bag into one of the driers but figured they would notice it would be missing. How long, given the size of the room, would it take before they would find it? Half an hour? I was thinking if I told them that I had inadvertently left it on the subway train, they might let us go, assuming that was all they were looking for, but I rather doubt they'd buy it.

Director of Security Yoda Leahy-Hu marched up to me and kicked me in the shins.

“That,” she said through tightly pursed lips, “is for leading us on this wild goose chase around Manhattan. Hand me the Mozart doll.”

I reached inside the tote-bag and pulled out of the four shards that had once been the Mozart casing and sheepishly handed them to her.

“What the hell happened to that?”

“Uhm, well, it broke, kind of...”

She looked at the different pieces and handed each one over to Lagrima as soon as she had examined them.

“And that's it?” She looked up, indignantly. “Nothing else?”

“Well, you asked for the Mozart doll and I gave you the Mozart doll – or what's left of it...”

“And how exactly did it... break?”

“When I put this screwdriver in through a crack in it, it just sort of... well, fell apart at the seams.” I handed the screwdriver back to Mr. Widor. “Here, I suspect you'll be looking for this.” A big unfriendly looking man, he snatched it roughly out of my hand.

“And I repeat – that's it? Nothing else?” She was poised to kick me in the shins again.

“Uhm... there's also this, yes.” And I pulled out the Beethoven statue, setting it carefully on the folding table in the center of the room.

“Great jumping Jehosaphat, what the hell is that?” She appeared genuinely surprised.

“It would seem there was this statue inside the Mozart doll.”

LauraLynn couldn't stand it any longer and quickly handed the Beethoven statue to Leahy-Hu. “Here, this is what you were looking for. The security agents found my brother – alive! – at Dhabbodhú's house on W.69th. We were just dashing off there to see him! Please, you can let us go, now,” she added pleadingly.

“I could – but I'm not gonna do it,” she said with a teasingly evil smile on her lips. She turned the statue around carefully in her hands. “What's this on the back – you found another clue?”

“We're not quite sure what it means, but yeah, I guess it's another clue.”

“It's in Greek, yet,” she added incredulously.

“It's not really Greek Greek, you see – it's kind of like... fake Greek,” Buzz tried to explain.

“Ah, Mr. Blogster,” she said turning to him, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind one ear, “so nice of you to be seen, again. Could someone explain what, more or less, this new clue means?”

I recited the limerick as she ran her finger across the engraving, line by line. When I had concluded, she stood there, her head suspended in disbelief.

“But you haven't figured out where this points to yet, have you?”

“Well, no, ma'am – you see, we've had these people chasing us all evening and...”

Chasing you,” she practically screamed. “Chasing you?”

I backed away from her impending kick and found myself landing in a chair behind me.

“Because of you, I was flea-bombed in the Met's basement, a maniac blew a hole in the back wall of the Met, the end of the 1st Act of the Met's performance of Rossini's Barber of Seville was absolutely ruined tonight...”

As she continued her ever-increasing rant, all I could think of was even sitting down, I am still taller than she is.

“You have proven to be a major distraction to us, tonight, professor. Rather than running away from us, if you had cooperated with us in the first place, professor, we might more easily have already averted this catastrophe and rescued Robertson Sullivan hours ago. But, nooooooooo...”

Her rapidly escalating indignity allowed her to rise to her full height, such as it was. At any moment I was afraid she would bop me on the bean with the Beethoven statue.

“And you, Dr. Sullivan – I don't know when (or why) you joined the party, but you mean to tell me you knew where this guy lived and you called his security company but not the police? Do you have any idea where we could be right now if both of you had cooperated with us from the beginning?”

“Actually,” LauraLynn said, trying to maintain her own integrity against this onslaught, “yes, I called 911 but apparently they called the security company, not the police, so you can take that part of it up with your emergency dispatchers.” She found herself awash in flashbacks of personnel reviews past, back in the days before she decided she'd had enough of corporate politics and branched out on her own.

The way Leahy-Hu reacted to this made me think if we poured water on her now, she'd just melt into the floor and leave us alone. I began looking around thinking it's a laundry room, there's got to be a bucket of some kind lying around...

Just then, I saw a familiar silhouette being led down the hall. This suddenly brought Leahy-Hu back to her senses.

“Ah, allow me to introduce to you Detective Telly Ho of the New York Police Department's Special WACKO Division. (That stands for 'Weirdos, Assholes, Crooks, Killers & Others,' by the way. I'll leave that up to you to figure out where you fit in.) The gentleman behind him, I think you know.”

“D'Arcy!” He looked rather worse given the wear and tear from when I'd seen him last: it apparently was no walk-in-the-park for him since we parted ways backstage at the Met. He smiled weakly as he nodded in my direction.

Just as I was about to ask him what had happened, Leahy-Hu interrupted to tell me there would be time later for chit-chat but at the moment there was work to be done.

“Mr. D'Arcy, here, will now connect with our maniac-of-interest, the one you know as Dhabbodhú, and give him the news you have discovered, Dr. Dick.” She gave a curt nod to Detective Ho who shoved a cell phone in D'Arcy's face. “And that news is...?”

“Wait – why is D'Arcy calling Dhabbodhú?” It wouldn't take much to add to the confusion.

“You may not have been aware of this, but Mr. D'Arcy has been in contact with Dhabbodhú all evening long. Haven't you, Architect?”

He meekly shrugged his shoulders and nodded like a small boy caught with his hand in a cookie jar.

“Wait – I was running from you because... well, never mind that now – and yet he, who was presumably trying to protect Robertson's Mozart doll, was in direct contact with Dhabbodhú, a.k.a. the villain, all along? Pardon me if this is starting to remind me of a Rossini first-act finale... just not as funny.” Speaking of anvils...

I was a little more than confused – hurt, perhaps, that my trust may have been misplaced; betrayed, certainly, like when it occurs to you the banks and the big pharmaceutical companies do not really have your best personal interests in mind when it comes to your retirement or your health care. Whatever happened to truth, honesty and doing-the-right-thing?

Judging from D'Arcy's hang-dog expression, it seemed it really bothered him he'd been caught.

“You guys can sort this out later,” Leahy-Hu said with an amazing lack of empathy, “but at the moment you,” she said, pointing at D'Arcy, “need to contact our wacko-du-jour and you,” she said, pointing at me, “need to tell him everything you know – I mean, about this map he's looking for.”

“Everything I know, which is not much...” I sounded as crestfallen as I felt.

“Yes, I've gathered that. Any takers?” She looked around the room. “Any one? Bueller?”

Meanwhile, Detective Ho has been looking over the Beethoven statue quite carefully. “Was Beethoven the kind of guy who'd have lots of tattoos, d'you think?”

“I rather doubt it,” said LauraLynn, peering over his shoulder. “Why?”

“Just wondering.” And he shined an infra-red flashlight kind of thing over the surface of the statue and a number of finely etched marks – made to look like tattoos – became visible.

“OMG, Dr. Dick – look at these!” Buzz pointed at different ones.

One on the left shoulder was an etching of a square with the name VERDI inscribed in it and an 'X' in the upper right hand corner. Above it, you could barely read “Falstaff enters here.”

On the bare thigh was a series of numbers and letters – 1g 3f 5g 7f 6d 7b 5a – almost four full lines of them.

“You just now noticed these?” Leahy-Hu was indignant at our oversight.

“Well, we've been kind of pre-occupied...”

“Verdi in a box?”

“No, Buzz,” LauraLynn pondered, “it probably refers to Verdi Square up on 72nd and Broadway.”

“The limerick mentions a Night's Tour, perhaps that's the next stop on tonight's itinerary?”

“Well,” Leahy-Hu looked up and cocked her head quizzically at D'Arcy. “Make the call. Tell him to meet you there and you'll give him the rest of the statue.”

“Tell him he has to dress up as the Black Huntsman and meet you at Herne's Oak.” Buzz was proud of his joke, pointing at the words “Falstaff enters here.”

“Perhaps there's a secret entryway in the base of the statue there – Verdi's statue.” LauraLynn looked from one to the other.

“Mmm, guarded by a spider, no doubt.” Buzz was hoping to find something more like Shelob's Lair, not an old marble statue in the middle of a glorified median strip on Broadway.

“I doubt whoever created these clues however long ago would count on a spider building a web there at this exact point in space and time. And besides, it says 'Immobile, the Spider,' which probably means it's carved into the base of the statue. Perhaps it's the.. you know, whatchamacallit you'd push to open a secret panel?” I wasn't too sure about it, but once you start free-associating, you can't quit. “Then inside there would be a container with the Old Secrets everybody's looking for? Yes? No?”

“But if these are Old Secrets handed down from the likes of Simon Sechter over 150 years ago,” LauraLynn asked, “how would he know there would even be a Verdi Monument in New York City when Verdi had only written up to, what... Ballo en maschera by the time he was teaching Bruckner?”

“I don't think the secrets themselves, whatever they may be, were written down by someone like Sechter or anyone before him: they were probably codified by someone after, say, 1906 or so.” I turned the statue over and looked at the string of numbers on the thigh.

“Why 1906, Dr. Dick?” Buzz tried to get Detective Ho to position the flashlight better.

“That's when the statue was installed in Verdi Square, not long after Verdi died, actually. And since Verdi – much less Mozart, Beethoven or Schoenberg, for that matter – had nothing to do with the string of teachers in Robertson's creative genealogy, isn't it possible that whole list of teachers going back to the 1720s is not really the important part of the quest? I'm wondering if Robertson isn't the current keeper of the secrets because he wrote them out himself and created these clues on this doll or this statue... I mean, I can't see John Corigliano spending a weekend in a do-it-yourself craft-shop coming up with these things and then entrusting them to just one of his students like it was some elaborate masonic ritual.”

“Robertson always was one for scavenger hunts – I used to dread birthdays and Christmases with him...” Laura Lynn was trying not to get too teary-eyed about the reminiscences of past happy days.

“Look, can we just cut the pre-concert crap and call this guy? We need to finish this up before the night is over or there will be some very... serious... consequences, I assure you!” Leahy-Hu could be powerfully assertive when making up for her physical presence.

D'Arcy took out his cell-phone, the one reserved specifically to contact Dhabbodhú, snapping a couple pictures of the Beethoven statue, then tapping in a message before hitting send.

- - - - - - -

Tr'iTone knew to check his phone when it began playing the ring-tone he'd assigned to his contact V.C. D'Arcy, the opening clarinet solo to “E lucevan le stelle,” sung by Cavaradossi just before his mock execution (it struck him as an amusing association). It was just a text message with with two attached jpegs.

2gether Again w/Dr.Dick – new devel – call4details – pics attch – D'Arcy

When he opened the attachments, they practically took his breath away. He had no idea what to expect but this was, to put it mildly, “freakin' awesome!”

The first pic was of the famous Beethoven Monument – Ludwig as Zeus (how cool was that?)– but it didn't look like the original. For one thing, it was difficult to tell without anything to compare it to for perspective.

But the second pic showed an engraving on the left shoulder of Beethoven's bare back – the name VERDI inside a box and the fingernail of an African-American male pointing at it clearly covering something in the lower right-hand corner.

Then Tr'iTone caught the drift of “call4details.”

New devel indeed,” he muttered. “It looks like our helpful Mr. D'Arcy is going to start playing games with me. Well, in that case, my Symphonie pour celui dont le temps est venu is about to modulate into the Development Section!”

And with that, he stepped out onto his front stoop, quickly punched a number into his phone and laughed.

- - - - - - -
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'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, October 7th.