In the previous installment, things are quickly wrapping up for this absolutely last installment of The Salieri Effect: first of all, Tom Purdue experiences another weird break-in at his cabin in Swanville, Maine (another visit from Wormwood?); Cameron has managed to survive a wild jeep-ride in the IMP agents' escape from the Basilikon Lab's fire and collapse; Rose Philips, mild-mannered piano teacher of Sanza, Missouri, comes clean about her past after Dr. Kerr comes to (speaking of surviving); and new developments about those mysterious mini-drones give the IMP pause.
= = = = = = =
Bridges' career as a has-been had, so far, lasted considerably longer
than his career as a famous, highly respected, and once sought-after
director which, truth be told, had lasted barely a few seasons. His
publicity photo, recently retired after a career of nearly twenty
years, attested to the days when fame brought certain expectations.
Young actresses might be expected to fall for his charms which, at
30, were considerably more than they were at 60. And a successful
director could promise fame which a washed-up one could not. He'd
hoped to avoid a scandal after one more failed seduction, hoping it,
too, could be hushed up like the others. That seemed to be a
recurrent thread in his career, these frequent seductions. In most
cases, young actresses, even Angela Tiepolo, Dorking's Constanze,
simply put up with him and chalked it up to experience.
course, his natural defense fell back on the “my-word-against-yours”
and “you-fucking-assaulted-me-you-crazy-bitch” variety,
except Vector walked in on them quite sure that director's hand was
working its way around that young actress' left breast, before Toni's
right knee came firmly in contact with Bridge's left testicle. Plus
Toni was also 16 and therefore, legally, under-aged.
too, a witness stepped forward as soon as Vector arrived: the
theater's costume designer, Taylor Velcreaux, the mousy woman quietly
working at her desk in the far corner and who, unnoticed, overheard
given the circumstances and the witnesses, and given the fact the
theater's board president was a friend of Burnson Allan's, Bridges
wasn't going to be allowed to merely resign for “reasons of
health.” He wasn't about to be allowed to simply disappear so
everyone could pretend it never happened, that boys were just boys.
No, this time, there would be a trial, complete with witnesses and
apparently several complainants because, within 24 hours, Angela
Tiepolo was in contact with five actress-friends who'd also been
assaulted by Director Bridges.
since they can now prove an assault on a minor, a charge of
“attempted statutory rape” was a definite possibility. The
constant parade of actresses now coming forward from behind the scrim
meant no one would likely ever hire Laurence Bridges again even if he
didn't spend the rest of his life in jail.
yeah, I just want to thank Cameron and Sidney for showing me that
self-defense move,” Toni said, “even though at the time I had
wondered why I would ever need such a thing. It came in handy and I'm
grateful, for once, for their 'phys-ed classes,' so much more
realistic than playing, like, softball...” (That had always been
one of Toni's major peeves with her American education, “enforced
phys-ed” with team sports trying to turn girls into future
athletes. “I'm not a girl,” she'd complained, “I'm a
phone call on Friday had come as a surprise, but she wanted to share
the news with us before all the shit hit the fans and Cameron and I
heard about it second-hand. “If my folks told you, they'd just say
'well, there was this backstage kerfuffle, so the show's off,' and
our news, I decided there was no reason to mention what we'd been up
to – well, I did some time-traveling and nearly got killed by a
transphobic composer; Cameron got caught up in some international
terrorist group's intrigue and...” – yeah, no. Plus I wanted to
save all the developments about L'Affair Trazmo for later.
There were still “details” to finish up – what “details”
can be finished up – but soon we would resume our vacatio
interruptus (which, I realized too late, may not have been the
most appropriate phraseology).
Burnson decided to remain in Venice – he was, LauraLynn said,
reluctant to admit he'd enjoy it more if it weren't so lonely – but
only on condition they would come back and rejoin him. Then, probably
by the time June rolled around, they could return home to Surrey in
time to avoid the summer sirocco. “And Mr. Newhouse,” Toni
explained, “said we could stay at the villa. Since he'll go visit
friends in Greece and Provençe, the palazzo and the villa would both
be empty the whole summer, anyway.”
added, parenthetically, he usually invited some musicologist-friends
from Denmark to spend the summer but both he and his partner were
teaching some graduate seminars in Stockholm, so they can't arrive
until maybe late-July. “Just think, my folks could have the palazzo
to themselves – and we could spend the summer composing under the
laughed but I'd caught the inference she didn't want to refer to
James' villa by its real name, Villa Venticelli: she'd had enough of
Peter Shaffer's venticelli to last her a few years. So in her
honor, Cameron and I agreed to rename it (temporarily) the Villa
Zefirini, and hoped it wouldn't offend anyone.
had diplomatically declined Burnson's invitation to repay his
hospitality with a visit to Phlaumix Court sometime later in the
fall. “Unfortunately, 'England fails to agree with my lawyers',”
Toni quipped, imitating him perfectly.
hesitated about any commitments to compose. We'd talked about Rose
Philips and what it must've taken her to realize she lacked the
talent and commitment it took to achieve the level she wanted. But
he'd give it “a go” since it would be good discipline for the
mind and a trial for the soul.
agreed we'd each try to compose something – Toni already had a
piece in mind (“of course,” Cameron said and rolled his eyes).
Whatever we'd finish, we'd read through it in a private performance.
“Maybe I could ask
Tom to host a little house concert at his place in the fall, Toni, if
you can come over to visit. It might give him a little creative
wondered if he'd be well enough to travel to Italy this summer and
wouldn't hurt to ask!”
* ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Orient, IA, behind had not been a difficult decision to make once the
inevitable paperwork with Sheriff Diddon was complete and the coldest
of cold cases about Phillips Hawthorne's disappearance was
successfully closed. We needed to get back to Maine and visit with
Tom a bit, then arrange for our return trip to Venice.
Hubbard had stayed behind in Sanza to look after her friend Rose.
Later, after we left, Rose would come up to Orient and stay with the
Hubbards for a few weeks of R-&-R.
told the sheriff about Old Gene, that “delightful old vagrant”
Trazmo gave his clothes to (that's not quite how I remembered it, not
sure who was in which parallel universe at the time). Buck Masterman
remembered the “rascally codger” who'd disappeared himself around
that time, so Orient's latest victim now officially died “by
Cameron and I, boarding the plane in Omaha for Portland, everything
appeared to resolve neatly, all officially dotted and crossed, except
for the poor folks over at GACC who were now stuck with a nearly
complete program that wasn't worth airing now that their
sensationalized suppositions had unceremoniously been pulled out from
under them. The late Phillips Hawthorne Sr. didn't have to deal with
the scandal over his son's disappearance and his son – or rather,
Rose Philips – need only contend with the temporary flurry over
Dexter Shoad's death.
for a few days, the news had been full of Dexter Shoad. The reporters
lacked a lot of substantial information, given the sudden demise of
the music school where he'd studied until recently, but the increase
in hits on the video of his Absence & Return had
skyrocketed exponentially over the past few days. Would would-be
composer Dexter Shoad, killed while attempting to murder two people
in a sleepy little town in Northwest Missouri, become famous because
of his music or because of the circumstances of his demise?
facts of that death – that he hadn't planned to commit murder, that
it all happened spontaneously out of his emotional responses –
meant nothing to anybody's awareness that in fact he hadn't
murdered anyone. For some, it begged Pushkin's question, posed about
Salieri – “are genius and crime irreconcilable?” – even if
Dexter Shoad was no genius?
or indirectly, Tom had now spent half his life under the shadow of
Trazmo's Disappearance, and while a lot of what happened or didn't
happen in his life may not be immediately caused by the case itself,
its impact had long loomed over him, a volcano on the verge of
erupting at any moment. So what, now finally resolved, it's another
murder – or alleged murder – where he's found “not guilty”
and it's “sorry, our mistake”? Meeting Rose Philips wasn't about
to make amends for past events and disasters.
she also said, clearly she had nothing to do with it directly, had no
idea it had been going on. She assumed it'd disappear once the media
lost interest, if it hadn't been for her father, the real culprit in
this. She did apologize that that bitter old man had, unfortunately,
lived too long.
Philips was a far cry from the arrogant bastard who'd plagued Tom
across the past three decades, but understandably Tom felt no need to
confront these memories or meet her under any circumstances. Even if
she'd say she was sorry for what he'd been through, I wondered what's
the point of an apology, anyway.
good thing was Tom had heard his Big Tune again, facing up to it
courtesy of Trazmo and Dexter Shoad, and thought it wasn't half-bad.
“Maybe I can still do something with that...?”
* ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
word got around SHMRG's headquarters pretty quickly that Lucifer
Darke was, in more ways than one, “out of the office.” Portia
Gates, former receptionist turned personal secretary, had witnessed
the IMP raid – how could she stop them? – and watched helplessly
as her boss was led away in handcuffs, the first of many big changes.
executive staff also noticed the parade: CFO Peter Andrew Wolfe,
whistling something from a piece by Prokofiev, decided it was time,
metaphorically, to change his spots. Director of Marketing Horace
Toccata nearly exploded.
minutes, Toccata submitted his resignation to “Whomever's Left to
Be Concerned” with a cc:Portia Gates and everyone on the board.
Responsible for a faulty product like the z'Art software, he
immediately cleared out his office and disappeared down the elevator,
where he'd met various IMP agents in the lobby who took him into
day ended with an All-Staff e-mail from the Board President,
Christopher Babbilla, which explained Lucifer Darke has left the
company “to pursue other interests” and that tomorrow morning,
the new CEO would convene an emergency board meeting to implement
additional changes. There followed a list of executives laid off in
order to cut costs.
few minutes later, a press release went out to announce SHMRG's new
CEO, though he wasn't exactly “new,” was he?
Ron Steele will return to his former post as CEO, effective
another flurry of resignations, the final day of the work-week began
with a sparsely populated office and Portia Gates nervously seated at
her desk, wondering if she would be, most likely, replaced by Holly
Burton and either reassigned or fired out-right. She'd served the
company well for many years; perhaps they'd consider that kindly.
hadn't seen Mr. Steele arrive but was later informed he's already in
the Board Room, ready to begin the meeting. Complete with notepad and
pen, she entered the room, intercepted by Holly Burton.
thanked her for bringing in her notepad and pen; then, smiling,
informed her the company no longer required her services.
delighted he no longer needed the wheelchair, admired this gold ring
on his left hand – something new and precious – pointing out to
Holly what he called “this mysterious encryption” around its
the downcast Ms. Gates and her boxes of personal things (she'd
discovered she'd already been locked out of her computer – were
there any files, she wondered, they might discover there connected to
Mr. Darke's downfall which could prove troublesome for her?),
Savannah Roller walked through the office, head high, and entered the
board room. Beside her was a nerdy young man, myopic, slightly
overweight, barely an adult himself, grossly uncomfortable in a suit
and tie. She'd been told this was Steele's new head of Cyber
Security, Kenneth Hackett.
that, Ms. Roller stepped back as Holly took up her old familiar
position at the head of the board table beside the CEO's chair, ready
to take notes as this momentous meeting unfolded. Ms. Roller
ceremoniously opened the door, scanned the waiting room – nobody
knew who she was – and nodded for them to enter.
of the board members, as they filed in, nodded and smiled at Steele,
welcoming him back for old times' sake. Others looked a bit wan,
unsure about potential retributions for their “alleged”
disloyalty. Steele stood by the doorway, his hands at his side, stern
and magisterial, while Savannah Roller, supremely confident, stood
some, Steele smiled and nodded as they passed; to others, he lifted
his chin, an imperious gesture with marked disapproval.
I held out my hand,” he wondered, “will they kiss my ring?”
* ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
technicians had scrubbed through Lucifer Darke's computer and found
enough incriminating e-mails to bring any number of charges against
him across a wide array from corporate malfeasance to the murders of
“inconvenient witnesses,” plus several related to the hundreds of
deaths of would-be composers resulting from known malfunctions in
SHMRG's Artificial Creativity software, “z'Art.” It was this last
one Capt. Ritard had specifically looked for – did they rush the
program into production knowing there was this technical glitch that
could kill people? The others came as a surprise.
“odors of Denmark” as Ritard expressed it (he always loved his
Shakespeare) wafted from some of these other e-mails, though. Why
would Darke keep so many of them, dating back so many years, when
years'-worth of other messages had been deleted? “It was almost as
if he'd left them there to taunt us – unless...”
IMP long suspected Steele had been involved in the death of Robertson
Sullivan whose opera, Faust, Inc., threatened to expose,
supposedly, an earlier crime of Steele's, the death of his secretary
Pansy Grunwald. The thing
was, the earliest e-mail which had implicated Darke in ordering
Pansy's death (“another accident”) predated his arrival at SHRMG.
here was a more recent one, previously unknown, another Steele
underling who “knew too much” and had to be silenced, dating from
the transition between Steele and Darke – but who was Amanda
it odd, Ritard thought, seated at his favorite table in the Thai
Palace's back corner, all these murders they'd long figured Steele
had planned were all ordered by Lucifer Darke – his once-loyal
henchman. Finding all these e-mails – wasn't that just too
convenient, too neat – too... obvious? How – no, who would
want to frame Darke? And now Streicher's failure to catch Steele at
the Allegro Conservatory yet again left the IMP the proverbial one
morning's word from Bond proved equally confusing, some learnèd
council of scholars (academic survivalists, apparently) with no clear
indication Steele or SHMRG were behind it. What did this have to do
with him? But that's the chatter, some plot to subvert the Casaubon
Society's codification of “all human knowledge.” Why? Was SHMRG
curtain,” Ritard said, “has yet to fall on this
investigation, Mr. Steele.”
summer passed quickly, but also, fortunately, uneventfully, lazy days
and lazier nights devoted to long talks and lots of composing.
LauraLynn and Burnson stayed at James' palazzo until mid-June when
they returned to Phlaumix Court, while the three of us, Toni, Cameron
and I, joined by Tom, stayed at the Villa “Zefirini” until
late-August. Tom had recuperated wonderfully in the sun and sweet
breezes of the Berici Hills and, with his mind finally relieved of
all its Trazmo trappings, his creativity almost immediately began to
re-blossom and flourish.
Tom wasn't particularly comfortable running around Legnago on our
one-day pilgrimage to Salieri's hometown, Toni managed to free
herself from the burdens of her experience with Amadeus,
especially her brief brush with stardom. Nephew Carlo, apparently, no
longer worked at the library; surprisingly, there were no records of
any letters written by Benedetto Speranzani.
days were filled composing, and at night we worked on realizing our
sketches or just unwound with some good conversation. While Toni was
already well into her dream-inspired Septet, the rest of us agreed to
write pieces for cello and piano, Tom and I both working on
full-fledged sonatas which we very nearly finished. Cameron, partly
distracted by Sam Senn's arrival for a two-week holiday, tried his
hand at a short, song-like nocturne. We agreed to have the parts done
for a read-through at Tom's place by mid-October.
large but usually empty cabin was full once again, and with several
new friends around his spirits brightened even more. On the first
weekend of October, Toni and her folks arrived from England
(surprisingly sans entourage), eager for the peak of
Leaf-Peeping Season; and Sam arrived on a break from Chicago two days
later. While Sam drove “the Brits” around to admire the scenery
(so different from Venice), Cameron drove the rest of us into Bangor
to work with the Dimsdale College musicians hired for the house
some of Tom's old-time Faber connections, we discovered William
Howell, a freshman our last year there, was now Dean of Fine Arts at
Dimsdale who graciously arranged for some faculty members and a group
of students to be available for us. Tom and I decided we could both
manage my sonata and Cameron's piece.
“concert” was set for Sunday the 16th which allowed us
four rehearsals at the college, given the faculty members'
availability. The cellist and the pianist, a married couple, were
local and more accessible; the oboist (who doubled on the English
Horn) came in from Portland and was only in town on Tuesdays and
Wednesdays. The violinist, the Bangor Symphony's assistant
concertmaster, assured us the students were “top-notch.” I
figured he'd assign a student for a 16-year-old's composition, but
after seeing the score, he agreed to play it himself.
I wanted to use all students but there were no English horn players
at the school except for the teacher. Plus, the workload for the
cellist and pianist required more commitment than the typical
student's schedule might be able to accommodate. Overall, things went
extremely well and we were encouraged from the very start.
word apparently got around about this odd “house concert” they'd
been hired for, an informal private performance including two new
pieces and some anonymous late-19th
Century cello sonata they were going crazy trying to figure out who
could've written it; so Dean Howell and the chairman asked to sit in
on the next rehearsal. They were quite enthusiastic about our
“project” and wanted to discuss perhaps performing them – world
premieres! – at a public concert during the school's Spring
Semester. Tom realized he should invite them to the concert.
Toni's parents and Sam, we had no other automatic guests, so,
performers aside, we decided to invite nine more in all: the
Department Chairman, Dean Howell and their wives, plus the school's
five undergraduate composition students (two of them young women).
Tom definitely had a full house and we were glad they had car-pooled.
It may have gone beyond the sense of a private performance but it
gave us the awareness of a real audience. Another rehearsal might've
been helpful, but generally it was a highly productive experience.
I'd bitten off more than I could chew, technically, with my own
sonata – it was years since I'd last done any performing as a
cellist – but it was an informal “try-out” and my own piece, so
there was also less pressure. Ultimately, we all acquitted ourselves
fairly well and Tom played with considerable assurance.
was the most nervous of us, despite the encouragement we'd given him.
His was really a lovely, thought-out, well-balanced piece, and I
hoped it would encourage him not to give up composition entirely.
Tom's sonata, or what he'd completed, made a very strong impression
and the dean asked if they wouldn't mind repeating it.
Toni's Septet stole the show, and even I was amazed, since I'd worked
with her these past two years, at the progress she'd made. Not
surprisingly, several asked to hear the finale again.
“Mystery Sonata” – most figured it was by some forgotten friend
of Brahms – was considered good, no previously unknown masterpiece
but a solid piece of craftsmanship and quite original in spots,
worthy of performance. “Very dramatic,” someone said, “too
dramatic for a mere academic”; also “technically proficient and
too well-crafted to be by some amateur.” Imagine the looks on their
faces when, after the applause, I told them the composer, who'd once
lived in this house and wrote it at this piano, was a housewife named
Emaline Norton Hyde!
no information about the “encore” – any mystery heightened only
by the tone of my introduction – jaws dropped afterward when I
announced the manuscript of this strange bit of Scriabinesque
atonality was dated 1892. (Dean Howell whispered “impossible!”)
Then I told them this was “Minotaur's Gate,” and its composer,
Jeckelson Hyde, was Emaline Norton's husband.
glanced at Tom and smiled as this revelation drifted over the
audience, pleased to have pulled this off so secretively. There were,
of course, lots of facts still to be unearthed about this mysterious
Mr. Hyde that would require further research. And then I caught sight
of a man seated not far behind Tom.
one of the guests from the college, I hadn't seen him earlier.
Slender, dressed in dark, old-fashioned clothing, dark hair and
mustache, he was a person who immediately struck me as vaguely
was reminded of another guest who'd milled about another reception
somewhere, sometime – someplace else – whom I couldn't
quite recall because there'd been no reason to notice him except he
was someone so striking.
the midst of explaining how Tom found the manuscripts in a closet
upstairs, I hadn't realized how long I'd paused.
man smiled, touched his index finger to his mustache, nodded. I saw
the flash of a ring – the ring I'd seen flash by me in the library at
Harvard? How could that be? One of the students I'd met at Sanders
Theater, one who'd studied with John Knowles Paine and later married
that was 1886, courtesy of the Kapellmeister.
name was Jeckelson Hyde.
was once his house; he's listening to music he'd once written here.
around, I'd lost him: obviously, my imagination...
were a lot of small conferences going on at the reception, the
composition students talking with Tom and Toni, mostly, but Brasilio
Bacchiano, the cellist, told me how they're all keen on playing the
entire program – including my sonata and Cameron's Nocturne, “if
you wouldn't mind” (mind?) – with Toni's Septet during the
looked quite comfortable, like she enjoyed talking to the chairman,
and LauraLynn and Burnson looked every bit the proud parents.
Success, I thought, was always a slippery slope: were they ready for
knew she should think about it but she immediately agreed to leave
the score and parts with them; maybe she could fly over for the
performance, if it'd be okay with her teacher.
great,” the chairman said. “Who's your teacher?”
were just talking to him,” she said, “over there,” pointing at
Howell spent a lot of time cornered there with Tom but I doubted
reminiscences about Faber were the main topic. It turned out the Dean
had told him how their composition teacher quit suddenly
(better-paying job out in the Midwest) and they needed to find an
interim replacement. Would Tom, he asked, be interested?
already met your students, they're all here, and they're unanimous
about my asking you,” he added, “so it's your decision.”
knew he should think about it but he said yes almost immediately.
left the next day for Chicago where he'll be involved in another IMP
investigation for a few weeks before he's transferred to the New York
division, assigned to Ritard's team on Bond's recommendation. With
some time off between Thanksgiving and the New Year, he'll spend it
visiting with us (well, mostly Cameron) in Doylestown.
often wondered when would be a good and safe time to expose Toni and
her music to the public, to officially begin her career, especially
after the cautionary tale of Phillips Hawthorne, Ex-Prodigy. She's
developing necessary self-confidence and maturity, plus a technical
and stylistic consistency: without it stifling her, she might be
and I made plans to leave Swanville the next weekend; it was time to
go, the future pleasant, hopefully uneventful.
I thought, heading home to Conan Drive, “what could possibly go
= = = = = = =
to be continued, eventually... whenever I complete the third volume of the Tom Purdue Trilogy, The Sisyphian Rhapsody.
by Dick Strawser for Thoughts on a