Monday, August 22, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #36


In the previous episode of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, we began with the closing installment of Knussbaum's Tale (the death of Beethoven, the subsequent history of the Immortal Belovéd and their daughter). It seems Dr. Kerr, Cameron and the young composer-prodigy Toni (who's descended from Beethoven and the Immortal Belovéd) have found the way into the Pendulum Room where they discover not only the pendulum but also Klavdia Klangfarben and hear strange music which turns into a string quartet. In fact, it's the missing quartet Beethoven composed to celebrate his daughter's birth, the “Quartetto giocoso.” And then they discover the entrance to the labyrinth (remember the labyrinth??)...

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.


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CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Pendulum Room, Phlaumix Court: continuing from before

This mass of wiry gray hair rushed past me with such unexpected speed, pushing me aside with such vehemence, she nearly knocked me off my feet. The staircase began to unfold more quickly as it descended, level by level, paths branching out, walls sprouting up like weeds.

"Holy crap," I thought, as distant memories began seeping back into my brain, "what the hell's wrong with you, you bitch?" And what was it with the hair, anyway, like something from the '80s?

She was a gray visage, the hair aside, her eyes steeped in scorn, lips parted in what passed for a smile, her dark suit giving her an overall impression of something not quite life-like. A complexion of pasty grayness completed the effect, opaque in the dim glow, heightening the malice I saw in her eyes.

But such was the notorious kill-or-be-killed mentality in the rarefied world of musicology, where nothing stood between you and your prize, after all your hard-won research, to let some idiot beat you to it. In this case, I was clearly the idiot, drawn into it by accident, trying to deny her her claim to fame.

But would she exploit this discovery she'd make, using it for evil ends, making herself rich while destroying other people's lives? Wouldn't she ruin Frieda's world, divulging these secrets, or put Toni's at risk?

Wouldn't it become part of the inevitable exposé, a bit of salacious entertainment? Was there anything one could gain by it? There were those who wanted to prove Beethoven was only human, after all. How would it help us understand his music, bring us closer to him? Would it help enrich our lives, I wondered?

Yet who could say what I would do was better for the world if my goal was to keep it secret? Was hiding this information from curiosity seekers really in the interest of truth?

At Schweinwald, not long ago, after we learned how she – this unknown woman – had been a "fountain of inspiration" for Beethoven, I chose to leave her grave undisclosed so scientists would not disturb her.

But could the Belovèd's identity be kept separate, satisfying the age-old scholarly curiosity, without necessarily revealing the identity of her descendants?

Yet somehow I was sure I knew her – not the Immortal Belovèd, of course, but this crazy woman rushing past me. It was the hair that jostled the memory, forgotten images falling into place.

Once, I had spotted it in the distance on a street in Dresden; at another time some palace in The Hague. (*1)

We chased her through the streets of Heiligenstadt, rescuing Beethoven from her clutches when she left that lawyer-friend of hers behind.

And – what? – visiting Bach in Lübeck, convincing him not to marry Buxtehude's daughter...?

But more recently hadn't there been something else, something connecting past and present – that summer we were at the Schweinwald Festival. Wasn't she the same one who'd kidnapped Dylan, the woman who hated Beethoven?

Hadn't it been the hair Dylan recognized from Cameron's photo in the library? It's this image that kept nagging at me.

What was it Knussbaum had said in his book about the Belovèd's "wiry silvered hair, unmanageable," so like the Master's own, no doubt resisting any attempt to be controlled except under a lady's wig? But Rosa Kohl, as everyone always called her, was very clearly no lady, this woman who had captured the Master's heart.

According to Schnellenlauter's recent discoveries, Klavdia's mother was the daughter of Frieda's son which made Klavdia Frieda's granddaughter, another Beethoven descendent! Did this woman inherit the unruly hair of both Beethoven and the Belovèd?

In the seconds since Klavdia Klangfarben passed me, the stairway continuing to unfold, I saw from the corner of my eye the sudden movement of somebody in a full tuxedo standing just behind me. Perhaps one of the servants had come through the portal to rescue us, something Vector would certainly know how to do.

It was, however, with a sinking feeling that I realized it wasn't Vector but the viola-wielding, would-be kidnapper who stood there. Even more discouraging, I noticed he was blocking Cameron and Toni's only escape.

The big guy looked dazed and even slightly confused about finding himself here, little different from how we'd looked moments earlier. He held his viola tentatively at his side, his brow furrowed in concentration.

The viola, odd enough with its white-varnished wood, had an oddly ominous glow. Suddenly, I got a faint whiff of cheese.

"Dr. Kerr, I believe you know our guest soloist?" The disembodied voice of Abner Kedaver giggled from somewhere just above us. "Nepomuck certainly knows you – don't you, Nepomuck, hmmm?" The violist looked around, bewildered.

But when he caught sight of me, his confusion quickly turned to satisfaction. With a smile he went to step forward.

"Be careful, Nepomuck – avoid the void," Kedaver chortled. Nepomuck pulled back in time. "Dr. Kerr can hear you fine from there."

Something cold brushed past me and I saw the crystal globe float by.

The madwoman was now well below me, hurrying along on the still-unfolding steps and getting caught in one dead-end after another. Suspended incongruously in mid-air, the staircase became a vast room of its own. The floor continued to undulate in slow waves as walls kept sprouting upward. Whatever path one could find was constantly shifting.

From where I stood, still on the landing, it would be difficult enough to see where the thing would eventually lead. Small wonder, deep in the midst of it, she kept bumping into walls.

The distant music once again resumed, growing louder, enveloping us in its beauty: the harmonious dance had once again become celestial.

Where was it coming from? Perhaps its source was controlled by the pendulum?

For the moment, I found myself distracted while Cameron tried recording it again.

Then I noticed Nepomuck began tuning his viola.

That small crystal sphere floated past me again, a chill in its wake, and I could see it more closely now. It looked exactly like the one at the base of the Grand Staircase. Did Kedaver – whose disembodied giggle I still heard – remove it from the post? Or had he himself become the crystal sphere? Or had he always been the crystal sphere, sitting there watching everything going on around him – no, that seemed too far-fetched. But what if he were inside the sphere? How could he control it?

"No, you see, Dr. Kerr," the voice said as the sphere drew closer to me again, "this is Alf – look closely."

I could see nothing but my own image reflected convexly on its surface.

"Are you saying Aleph," I asked, "or something short for 'Algorithmic Labyrinthine Formula'?"

"No, actually," he giggled, "it's short for Alfredo."

The sphere, dodging about us, darted back and forth between Cameron and me, buzzing around a bit like an annoying mosquito. I could feel this coldness in its wake: Kedaver was holding the sphere.

"This sphere has a center that is nowhere, a circumference that is everywhere. It is an infinitely concentrated mass simply contracted."

He explained every image of the universe was condensed into this little sphere, in fact every image of every imaginable universe.

"You do not want to touch it or you'll find yourself trapped inside..."

Above me, I could feel the pendulum getting closer in its return sweep while below me I could hear Klavdia cursing. And once again, the music was becoming more distinct – louder, more clearly defined.

"But where's the music coming from? The pendulum?"

"Use your imagination, Dr. Kerr!"

Quite possibly, there was more than one mystery...

I recalled how old recordings from my youth consisted of one labyrinthine groove which engraved music's sound-waves into the needle's path.

"So the pendulum acts as a phonograph needle, but reproducing sound-waves from... what...?"

"Your grasp of technology is so leaded in the past, my good doctor. Imagine not needing to record anything with performers."

"You mean the pendulum is drawing the sound directly from... what – the score?"

"It's retrieving exactly what Beethoven heard in his mind as he wrote it!"

"If that's the case, then, where's the manuscript?"

The music grew in intensity; the sphere – Alf – spiraled up around the pendulum. Again, I felt the brush of cosmic winds.

"Such magical music, yes?" Kedaver crooned. "It makes me laaaugh for sheer joooooy."

This was becoming, alas, a distraction, hearing music recorded directly from Beethoven's brain!

I ducked as the pendulum passed directly overhead.

Klavdia yelled she could see the center of the labyrinth as it rose – not a flat plane, more a three-dimensional graph.

"There its is," she shouted, "a great golden casket bearing Beethoven's ultimate treasure!"

She was already half-way there and I hadn't even begun the race, yet.

But suddenly the labyrinth had reached its limits and, seeing it from my perspective, I realized she was far from home.

The walls, however, continued to grow, hedges gone wild completely obscuring her view.

From where I stood was a better position.

Cameron, caught in a trance, was still trying to record as much of the quartet as he could on his phone. It was Toni who looked back and realized Nepomuck was hurrying toward them.

The sphere circled back around Cameron and Toni, then came directly toward me as Nepomuck, marching forward, began playing his viola.

"You can run to the center of the labyrinth, Dr. Kerr – or you can rescue Cameron," Kedaver's sang into my ear.

"You said I rescued you in Heiligenstadt, Kedaver. Surely that counts for something?"

Then it occurred to me, where I'd seen this man called Nepomuck before: in the Hotel Mandeville where we'd had breakfast. I thought the man had looked too slovenly to be a guest there. He was bald with a rumpled overcoat and carried a tattered viola case – and very nearly knocked me off my feet.

I remembered how I'd even joked with Ivanskoff about that being his quartet's new violist, who'd barged out of the elevator. No, he wasn't a guest staying there, he'd been upstairs murdering Norman Drang!

Could he have been backstage to see Maestro Schnellenlauter after last night's rehearsal? If he was, it wasn't a matter of auditioning for them, was it? Why would he have killed them – and how?

No, he must've somehow used his viola to murder them in cold blood – and not by hitting them over the head!

"Ah! He killed them by playing his viola – by playing his white viola." That was it: not just any white viola. It was "The White Viola." Of course – why hadn't I realized this before?

It had been Stradivarius' legendary 13th viola whose varnish was ruined in that lunchtime accident (which explained the whiff of cheese).

Years ago, I'd read somewhere how it surfaced again when someone named Franklin Stine had found it only to have it disappear, others found inexplicably dead. Had it been turned into a killer viola?

"Excuse me, Mr. Nepomuck, sir" I called out. "Did you ever know a Dr. Franklin Stine, not long ago, I'm guessing?"

It was enough to make him stop playing and turn to face me.

"You look surprised – did you study with him? Maybe borrow his white viola?"

He played some aggressive notes on the C-string.

The pain was excruciating, even with the Beethoven quartet welling up around us.

"If I may make a request, would you by any chance know anything by the group called Screaming Dead Lawn Zombies?"

I yelled he ought to wait until the pendulum passed before playing it.

Cameron was able to understand me and smiled. I saw him reach for his iPod and quickly stick the ear-buds in.

"As a member of the Penguins of God, I do not take requests!" And with that, Nepomuck turned back to Cameron.

"Penguins of God?" What the hell was that? Some secret society, I imagined. "I don't think I'd ever heard of them."

Nepomuck once again began sawing away on his viola's lowest string: wolf tones!

Cameron motioned for Toni to stay close to the wall, cover her ears, and sneak around past Nepomuck toward the mirror.

"Well, if you're not going to honor my request, then," I shouted back, "you should come get me first, shouldn't you? Once I head into the labyrinth, you won't be able to catch me."

The music from Beethoven's quartet started welling up into a louder passage then and I could no longer hear Nepomuck's viola.

Ah, now I recalled hearing about "Penguins of God" before – some terrorist organization!

"Look, Mr. Nepomuck, your boss'll be really pissed if I get away – again."

He turned, playing several aggressive, pain-inducing down-bow strokes.

I quickly fell to my knees, my hands over my aching ears, but not before I saw Cameron rush toward Nepomuck. He had started backing up toward Toni who'd also fallen to her knees.

The expression on Nepomuck's face had been one of complete surprise: the viola proved impervious against Cameron's Screaming Dead Lawn Zombies.

Backing away from the abyss, Nepomuck kept sawing away at his Wolf Tones.

The sound of Beethoven's quartet shrieked in agony and I noticed the labyrinth itself started twisting, sufficiently distorted by the noise.

Without realizing what was happening, Nepomuck stepped back, tripping over Toni's huddled form, and found himself unable to regain his footing.

Once he stopped playing, the wretched sound disappeared, the infernal pain went away.

Toni sat up, hitting Nepomuck's leg as Cameron pushed him from the side which sent the violist stumbling toward the edge.

His arms began to pinwheel and the viola started flailing through the air. His feet tap-danced desperately to retain his balance. Far too big a man to be graceful, his end would be unenviable.

Toni backed away from him, hoping not to get caught in his gyrations and hoping, too, the violist would not latch onto Cameron for support and inadvertently throw him off the ledge with him.

With a great roar like a wounded beast, Nepomuck teetered on the brink, then fell over the edge, spiraling into infinity.

His final conscious act was to throw the instrument clear of his fall whether it would actually save it or not. Clearly, nothing would save him at this point: perhaps his viola would survive...?

The white shape rose in a slow-motion arc, spiraling back toward the wall. Graceful, unlike Nepomuck, its end seemed equally imminent.

Like a gymnast suddenly appearing out of nowhere, Toni leapt into the air starting with a well executed front full twist before – bravo! – sticking the landing after a punch front layout, viola in hand!

No sooner had Cameron and I started to applaud than Kedaver's obnoxious giggle overwhelmed the music which slowly continued its retreat.

Another voice was now heard reverberating through the space, a man's authoritative voice.

"Come to me, Toni, come and join me. Bring me the viola," it said, "and join me on the Darke Side."

"The Dark Side – what the hell is that?" Toni asked, looking around, perplexed.
Cameron was urging her back toward the mirror.

Where was the voice coming from? "Who are you?" The giggling wasn't helping.

"Cameron," I shouted, "get her back to the Reading Room – through the mirror!"

"Power and wealth await you," the voice continued.

Cameron grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her away from the voice.

"Remember the Fibonacci code," I yelled as the staircase buckled again.

I ran into the labyrinth, screaming like a little girl.

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to be continued... [with any luck, the link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, August 24th...]
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(*1) Dresden... the Hague: Kerr is having brief memories flashing back from his experiences recounted in The Doomsday Symphony, following a woman with a mound of platinum hair named Klavdia Klangfarben (as well as her sidekick, Abner Kedaver) through time, trying to kill Wagner and Mozart before they became famous (and also Bach and Beethoven).

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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #35

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Melissa Fourthought (who's really Klavdia Klangfarben) runs into an old friend, Abner Kedaver (who's really dead). Confusion abounds in the reading room of Phlaumix Court's mysterious (and curiously inaccesible) Pendulum Room: yes, they've found Bugsy's body but all clues point to Dr. Kerr as the murderer. In the chaos, he's noticed an odd mirror which Cameron and Toni figure out to be... well, a lot more odd than it looks

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.
 )

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PART FOUR
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CHAPTER TEN

Being the conclusion of Knussbaum's "The Tale of the Master and his Belovèd"

There is little to add at this point beyond recounting the excruciating details of those well-known events of the Master's life, or, for that matter, those of the woman whom Beethoven called his "Angel" or the child he knew was his daughter. There was never any indication he ever said anything about them again except on rare occasions when he would ask me how was the project's fund holding out, whether the finances remained suitable enough. The quartet ended with a rising motive and three startling modulations before the final cadence which the Master told me represented "Eternally yours," "Eternally mine," and the final resolution to E-flat Major, "Eternally we." But yet, this motive, he said, became transformed into something for almost every piece he wrote from the Missa Solemnis forward.

For in reality, he said, thoughts of her and their child inspired not only the mass through which he sought forgiveness, but the last piano sonatas, the great Choral symphony (not just the finale), and especially the series of quartets he was embarking upon at the time, a motive so transformed as to be unrecognizable. When he showed me the manuscripts, I said I could not see what he was referring to, and he laughed aloud. "That, my rotund Hermes, is exactly the point! Only I know it's there!"

There is little to say about "Rosa Kohl" (it was how she was known to my aunt and uncle, after all) except that she continued to live the quiet life of a country widow, raising her child who enjoyed growing up with other children living nearby in the quaint if somewhat limited village of Oberunterzwischenstein. She never once went into Vienna because Herr Sechter had told her he would cut off her support if she did and she found village life for herself quite boring enough without being poor.

Every year around Amalie's birthday, I would bring three colleagues out along with Sechter to play for her her father's quartet though she found the music boring and her mother thought it was insufferable. And every year we would travel back to Vienna and tell the Master how much they both had enjoyed the music.

We both knew the Master would never release the quartet for publication without having to admit to whom it was dedicated so that the primary reason for their secret existence became the quartet's, also. After one such birthday, Beethoven made us once again swear to maintain the secret and continue the project past his death. He now wanted us to wait until after Rosa's death to publish it – even he had started to call her that – but to make no reference to her identity or to their daughter's existence.

Once, the Master belittled Sechter's habit of writing such academic, indeed awful fugues. Embarking on a series of new string quartets, Beethoven bragged he would show him how to write a really great fugue. (Whenever Sechter or I visited, we would keep our own separate "conversation books" to ensure nobody could read what we'd said.)

Another time, not long before his nephew – poor deluded boy – tried committing suicide, I again argued to release the Giocoso Quartet. When he said he would not, I shook my head: "Must it be?"

Slapping his palm on the table, he laughed, "It must be!" then paused and said, "wait, I must write that down..."

The Master's health was rarely good but there were times when it improved and it seemed he had many years left. Yet "Rosa" predicted he would die in the springtime during a fierce thunderstorm.

That December, after Beethoven returned from his brother's house in Gneixendorf, his nephew beginning his new life in a military regiment, the Master became seriously ill, so ill doctors thought he might die soon. I went to see him and again he pressed me about "our Project," hiding from Amalie what he called his "shame." He gave me several boxes filled with letters – those I'd carried back and forth between them over these past many years – of which he now said, "Hermes must give these over to Hephastion's fire."

He urged me to destroy our conversation books and, come springtime, to secure any letters which "Rosa" herself might have kept, consigning those to flames through which his sin could still not be cleansed. The next day, after a terrible storm, Sechter and I went to see the Master only to find him already dead.

We could not assist in the funeral arrangements because most of those close to him then knew nothing of our association. Instead, we walked amongst the throngs of mourners and grieved for our loss. Trudging along behind the coffin, someone asked me how I knew the Master. "Certainly as anyone who loved music knew him."

As we returned from the cemetery, deep in thought and lost in sadness, Sechter and I talked long into the night and wondered what need there was to continue hiding "Rosa" and Amalie's identities.

But soon we heard Schindler found among the Master's papers in his desk a lengthy letter written to an unnamed woman, someone called, among other things, the "Immortal Belovèd," a sad thing to read. Immediately, Vienna was abuzz with wonder that such a thing had gone undetected, that even his closest friends had suspected nothing.

What other things he may have forgotten to give me before he died, Sechter and I continued to worry about anxiously. Would there be more recent letters that implicated out roles in this deception?

Schindler had his theories and others made their own suggestions, to no avail: no matter who one guessed, it remained unprovable. And yet nobody was anywhere near the mark – they didn't know "Rosa" existed.

After hurrying off to Shady Pines, I was met by a stoic Rosa who told me bluntly that Beethoven had died.

Two unrelated things happened a few years not long after the Master died: my uncle Tobias died quietly in his sleep and Herr Sechter was offered a job teaching in Bavaria, someplace called Schweinwald. Since Aunt Sophia said she could no longer maintain the inn by herself, she announced she was prepared to sell it. This meant we needed to find a place for "Rosa" and her daughter in order to remain true to the Master. Then Sechter announced he'd take them to Schweinwald as part of his household.

Fortunately, he also needed an assistant and someone who could teach organ, so he found a place for me, as well. There, together, we were able to maintain the secret indefinitely, far from Vienna. We had no idea how old "Rosa" may have been, by this time, but Amalie, now seventeen, made the trip easily.

The deception succeeded satisfactorily though not without curiosity, especially after Sechter resigned to return to Vienna, having left Frau Kohl behind. By this time, "Rosa" was even less herself, if she ever had been. But it made others, asking me directly, wonder who she was to Sechter if he would not take her with him.

"She has become too ill to travel and being so well situated here, she would not do as well in Vienna. Therefore," I explained, "I had agreed to continue looking after both of them."

If I have time (which I fear I do not), I will return to write more about the Belovèd's life, here, and about Amalie and how she grew up practically as my foster daughter, instead, focusing here on what concerns the Master who loved her greatly, her father except in being there to raise her.

Not many years later, Amalie fell for the charms of student Everett Gutknaben and unbeknownst to him bore him a daughter to whom, for some unimaginable reason, she had given the name Claudia Ludwiga.

Barely two years later, young Amalie succumbed to an illness discovered too late, and then, on an otherwise felicitous summer afternoon, we laid her poor body to rest in the graveyard beyond the castle.

And so the years moved on, more quickly now than in the past, all without any further performances of Beethoven's quartet.

In the last decade of her life, our "Rosa" descended clearly into madness, brightened only by the presence of her granddaughter, and forcing me to swear, again, I would never reveal her family's secret. It was good that Beethoven should never have seen what their misalliance had led her to: he'd become even more despondent.

According to the Master's wishes that final day, after she was buried somewhere remote and safe, we should erect a monument, some likeness of him where he could gaze upon his "Fountain of Inspiration."

So this we did, Sechter returning for the funeral and for the quiet installation of Beethoven's statue on the castle's courtyard. But he'd returned to Schweinwald having discovered some disturbing news in the capital.

"There is clearly some peril," he reminded me, "attached to the revelation of the Master's secret, for we must proceed cautiously."

He explained Schindler unwittingly gave rise to rumours that this Immortal Belovèd may possibly have born a child to the Master, and some, incensed this besmirched his reputation, were out to destroy any proof.

According to some little list, apparently they suspected Schubert might know the truth: his death so soon afterwards now seemed suspicious.

"So it becomes clear, don't you see," my old professor explained to me, "we must continue to guard the Master's secret."

"And how do you propose we do this," I asked, "for all eternity?"

More years passed by in which I implemented Herr Sechter's improbably detailed plan to protect the descendents of the Master's legacy from the nefarious members of a secret society calling itself the 'Guidonian Hand.' We set up the Watchers – "Rosa" unendingly complained how we continually 'watched' her – responsible for keeping track of the future generations. These were people separate from the family line who were to act independently and, he specified, unbeknownst to the heirs themselves. No one who was descended from Amalie must know who her father was.

Of equal importance was that no one should know the true identity of her mother, he continued, not even the Watchers, thereby protecting them from this one crucial aspect of the Guidonian Hand's search. For the Hand's goal was two-fold: to destroy all evidence of those descendents and obliterate all knowledge of the Belovèd's identity.

Given the need for continued secrecy but also given the need for additional Watchers, at least those going into the future, we decided to induct Sechter's successor, Professor Dudley Böhm, into our "Immortal Club," a name we originally coined half in jest but which seemed, now, the Belovèd aside, a society for the "immediate eternity."

We had to make sure somewhere, somehow, someone would someday be able to discover the Truth and the secret be revealed. To that end we must hide the Belovèd's Will and the quartet's manuscript.

Alas, showing it to Sechter, I did not think this was what we wanted the future to know about their relationship, clearly having been the product of a diseased mind, as he put it. Who better than me to record the Master's side of these distant events? But not that just anyone could read it.

And so we devised a code that should not attract attention to itself but challenging enough not to be broken easily. (I need not explain what it is as you've apparently figured it out.)

So I will reluctantly hide with it the original manuscript and my copy of Beethoven's quartet which he called the Giocoso and which for obvious reasons Sechter and I always called The Belovèd Quartet.

Then, on a chilly April evening for what would have been Amalie's 35th birthday, we played the quartet one last time.

It was the first time in thirteen years anyone had heard the work which had by now grown on us considerably and Sechter and I wept for knowing we would never hear it again. My three colleagues who played it this time, never having heard it before, thought it a marvelous work worthy of publication.

It was the height of hubris to claim the work as my own so I said a friend had written it and she did not ever want it to see the light of day.

I have no idea whatever possessed me to say it had been written by a woman (rather than inspired by one) but that at least would explain the reason it could not be published.

Joking perhaps a rumour would begin it was written by the Belovèd herself, we then quietly burned the set of parts.

Now I am old and frail myself – my time is close at hand and I must finally put aside immortal longings and thank God (and the Master) for giving me such a long life.

It is a sad time, too, for Count von Falkenstein has died and with it any interest in maintaining the Academy.

Claudia Ludwiga has done well on her own, Count Albrecht Johann's second wife, giving birth to a daughter and twin sons.

Alas, one son died young without producing any offspring for any future union.

Count Albrecht's son, Ludwig, by his first wife, has closed the Academy and with it, quite frankly, my reason for living. He decided to sell much of the library, including our considerable Beethoven collection. Fortunately the library has been purchased by a music-loving English aristocrat whom I have met and chatted with at great length.

His name is Sir Sidney Leighton, the 9th Marquess of Quakerville, I believe, and apparently quite a "fan" of Beethoven's music. He had been traveling to Vienna when he heard about Count Leopold's collection.

We talked for hours about my having actually been in the Master's presence – he could listen for days to these anecdotes – though I was careful not to mention my most enduring connection to him.

It was then I decided this could be the Immortal Club's ideal solution: hiding the Belovèd in a distant English castle!

When I asked him if his castle's library had a musically knowledgeable librarian, Sir Sidney confessed there wasn't even a librarian, so I then took the opportunity of suggesting a former student of mine.

"He's English, a brilliant lad, and had been here a couple summers ago, having proved quite a promising composer and scholar.

"I think you'll find him, despite his youth and inexperience, a good selection and already acquainted with much of the material."

When he agreed, I told him the young man's name was Harrison Harty.

It makes me smile to think how everything has worked out – or I hope it will – keeping true to the Master. I wish Sechter and even old Böhm could be here to see it.

It does not seem possible to me, thinking back to those heady days, how it all began over seventy years ago!

I am giddy with excitement over how Fate has knocked at my door; how incredible it has been, answering that knock.

Young friends, recently entered into the Immortal Club, I leave you the future!

Now all that is left for me to do is finish this memoir, which I will instead leave here at Schweinwald.

(Yes, it would not do well for everything to be in one location.)

So now 'tis time to hand this to the next generation of Watchers.

(And have done so without revealing her name.)


*-*

The Reading Room, Phlaumix Court: continuing from before

"But they're gone, right? – all three of them," Agent Libitum spluttered, looking dumbfounded.

Others were equally flustered, pointing here and there, mumbling in a gradual crescendo.

"Yikes," Agent Ed Libitum continued, "they just disappeared in a puff of smoke! I'm not making this up! Where'd they go?"

"Idiot," Chief Inspector Hemiola said, slapping him across the back of his head, pushing Libitum aside to get a better look. "We're the police – it's up to us to answer stupid questions like that!"

"Constable Conan Drumm of the Greater Dorking Police, sir," Drumm said, stepping forward. "I'll have to ask you to step back."

Hemiola flashed his own badge automatically in reply, causing Drumm to step back.

"And what brings London's Music Police to Snaffingham?"

"I came here to arrest Dr. Kerr on suspicion of murder," Hemiola explained.

The constant murmuring stopped as if on cue, the sudden silence nearly deafening as everyone looked from one to the other.

"Well, yes, that makes sense," Sir Charles said, "but how did you know?"

"I quite agree," Maurice Harty added, "quite obvious: Sir Bognar had just left dinner when Kerr followed him out almost immediately."

"While I'm arresting Dr. Kerr for the murders of three musicians," Hemiola smiled, "I'm not averse to adding a fourth charge."

"Yes, perhaps," Drumm countered, "but Sir Bognar's no musician, therefore he's my jurisdiction."

"But, meanwhile, your suspect," the Marquess countered, "was standing there a moment ago, and now, unless I'm mistaken, he is not. If you're going to charge him with murder, shouldn't you find him first?"

The murmuring immediately began again, forcing Hemiola to raise his hand in warning, cutting them off with a masterfully conductorial gesture.

While Hemiola and Libitum peered into the mirror where Kerr had been standing, Cathie Raighast looked down at Bugsy's body, frowning.

"Please have the decency to cover the body," LauraLynn asked, indicating a throw.

"I'm sorry, you can't do that," Cathie said, looking up as Sir Charles reached toward one of the throws LauraLynn indicated.

"Quite right, ma'am," Drumm said. "Otherwise you'd end up contaminating the crime scene."

One of Drumm's men had called Dr. Livingstone but got his answering machine.

"According to Auntie," Drumm said, "he's in London."

Hemiola sent Agent Libitum off after the others while he questioned the witnesses. "Does anyone here know where this... passageway leads? Is there any other exit from this room, anywhere Kerr could've gotten to?"

"There is, sir, only one way into this room," Vector said, stepping forward. "As you see, it's a narrow, semi-circular space."

"There's no way he could've gotten past everyone and bolted out the door?" Hemiola looked around, very perplexed if not annoyed.

"He, sir? You mean Dr. Kerr?" Vector responded. "No, that wouldn't be likely."

"But you saw it just as clearly as I did," Sir Charles said. "There was a flash of light and poof!"

"The light started to shimmer," Maurie corrected him, "and then they were gone."

"Didn't anyone else notice they'd just walked through that mirror, there," Herring asked.

"Now then, Rudyard," Vector said, "how's that possible?"

"But it's true," Díaz-Éray said, also peering toward the mirror Herring had indicated. "A doorway opened up and they ran inside."

"That's the mystery about this room," Sidney explained. "It's called the Pendulum Room."

"Yes, and what's the mystery," Hemiola asked him, looking Sidney up and down.

"Well, then, sir," he said, "where's the pendulum?"

"Like so many mathematical aspects of this house, we've always assumed," Vector said, nodding toward Hemiola, "it was just another puzzle. Look at this space, sir. A pendulum here is of no significance whatsoever."

"What is of no significance? Vector, what is going on, here," Frieda asked. "Burnson said there's been an accident. Where's Bugsy?" Tabitha wheeled her up to the entrance and the crowd parted for them.

She peered forward into the room, past the policemen and saw the body. She cried out and clutched at her chest.

"But I only asked him to get something for me, a simple favor. It's that maniac that's loose in the house!" She covered her eyes with her hand. "Another murder today – that's not possible."

"You think he's been murdered, ma'am," Hemiola asked. "What makes you say that?"

"It hardly looks like he tripped and fell!"

"But you mentioned a maniac on the loose. You're referring to Dr. Kerr?"

"Terry? Hardly, man," Frieda said with striking vehemence. "The one who'd kidnapped Cameron."

"You mean the man kidnapped his own assistant?"

"Vector, who is this fool and where are Terry and Cameron? And Toni, for that matter!" Frieda's concern was mounting quickly.

Hemiola flashed his badge at her without introduction. "So, you know Dr. Kerr?"

"Of course." LauraLynn stepped forward. "He's an old friend of both our families. Frieda's known him for almost, what – forty years?"

Constable Drumm explained briefly that they're looking for someone disguised as a servant – Hemiola's glance rested on Herring who looked suspicious – and earlier kidnapped one of the guests who happened to be Kerr's assistant.

Frieda looked at Bugsy's body as Tabitha was starting to wheel her away. "Wait a minute – what's that in his hand?"

"I believe it's a book, ma'am," Hemiola said, looking closer at the body.

"I can see that, you nimwit," she said, "but what book is it?"

"That's evidence, ma'am, and it can't be disturbed."

"Could you check if that's a copy of Unfinished Melody," she asked him, "that's what I'd asked him to come find."

"And you think," Hemiola said, "that someone might have killed him for that?"

"What a troglodyte," Frieda snapped. "If that were the case, one would assume the killer would've taken it with him, yes?"

Drumm, checking the spine, confirmed it was, in fact, the book in question.

She immediately became calm and asked Tabitha to take her to Lady Vexilla. "She'll need someone, now, to share her grief."

"Victim probably strangled. Better call Dorking General," Drumm told one of his officers, "see if Dr. Slabbe is on duty tonight." He explained to Hemiola Slabbe was the hospital's legendary pathologist, soon to retire.

As the crowd, reluctant to move otherwise, opened to let Frieda pass through, Drumm asked everyone else to leave except Vector.

Constable Drumm wanted to know what the "significance" was of the Pendulum Room, compared to what others called "the Reading Room," especially since there seemed to be a complete lack of any obvious pendulum.

"Ah, well," Vector began, hesitating, "you see, sir, there is a rotunda – completely windowless – which would be visible from the outside. It's parallel and perfectly proportioned to the larger rotunda that is the library."

He explained during Victoria's reign – "they weren't always thoughtful about their renovations, then" – the rotunda was "inexplicably and completely sealed off."

Hemiola, who'd been walking around looking for doors or possibly windows, even trompe l'oile ones, found nothing but paintings and mirrors. He thought it unlikely that there wasn't some kind of secret entrance somewhere.

"It isn't some kind of well-concealed priest hole (*)?"

"If it were, you could hide a whole college of cardinals inside, sir."

"But we all saw him – them, the three of them – disappear at this point," pointing to the floor where he stood.

"Finding his way inside by accident doesn't mean he'll find his way out."

There was an explosive crack, like wood shattering, followed by a lot of screaming and yelling, loud music and crashing metal.

IMP Agent Sforzato had broken down the door to Phlaumix Courts' public wing.

"Freeze – special agents," he'd shouted, followed by several other IMP agents, guns drawn.

"What the hell – !"

Girls screamed. Stage hands hollered.

Lighting poles and set pieces clattered to the ground, bulbs exploding like grenades.

Above the tumult soared the raging coloratura of Skripasha Scricci, hurling forth a steady stream of extremely volatile, nearly unintelligible expletives.

Vector ran out of the Reading Room, followed by Hemiola, so furious his face appeared nearly as red as his scarf.

"Hands up," shouted Sforzato as O'Rondo hurried through the flow of costumed contestants.

"Where is he," they demanded, fanning out across the room, "where's Dr. Kerr?"

Vector, outraged beyond words, fumed among the ruins.

The pageant had barely started their final number – adapting the Orient Express so that revealing the murderers' identities revealed the finalists – when the police stormed in, knocking everything down, shouting about handing him over.

Convinced they were after him, Scricci took off screaming across the crowded stage, clambering up an artificial tree which tumbled backwards.

Badger, confronting Agent Bond with his mic, asked who they were looking for.

"The suspect Richard Kerr is the murder suspect..."

Cutting through the din, the announcement set off a new wave of panic.

The tree Scricci was climbing slammed into the backdrop, ripping it to shreds, as contestants, everyone screaming, fled into the wings.

Badger stood calmly before the pandemonium-filled stage, announcing, "There's a killer among us!

"While he may not've been a terrorist, Kerr is, apparently, a suspected murderer and he's loose on our stage – hashtag exciting!"

Hemiola proved to be an unwilling interview, no matter how hard Badger tried pumping him for information about the "on-going investigation."

"So it appears our two would-be terrorists are – 'allegedly' – a one-man killing spree!"

Faiello and Angelo hauled Scricci – extremities flailing as he shrieked, "Fictitia, you bitch" – off to the safe room they'd prepared backstage.

Very quickly, hundreds of tweets appeared with #ProdigyPimp, like "Greatest Reality Show Ever!"

Thousands of viewers tweeted "#BlameItOnFictitia."

Others used "#ScricciStillAwesome."

"WTF! Finally started picking up at the end!"

"How will they top THIS?"

*-*

Inside the Pendulum Room, Phlaumix Court: same time

It wasn't an unexpected sensation, this stepping through a ripple of bluish light, reminding me of something before, some field outside this town in the Poconos – the ruins of a town called New Coalton – not far from an old farm where we'd heard Sebastian Crevecoeur's piano quintet.

"The posthumous one – remember that? It was the summer when we'd first met."

Cameron, meanwhile, was too wide-eyed to be bothered with nostalgia at this point. "Right," he said, "but where are we now?"

"This is, like, so weird." Toni thought she was having a bad dream. "This is like a very large, round room, a place with no lights and it's beginning to really creep me out."

It was in fact a large round room but one that was much larger than the semi-circular Reading Room would imply.

"I mean, we just walked through a mirror? And what's all that about the Fibonacci series," Toni asked, becoming more inquisitive.

"There's no time to explain, so right now you'll have to trust us."

"Look there," Cameron pointed out, "it's an inscription."

"Latin, it seems," I said. "Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate. Of course!"

"We see now... through a mirror... in riddles?"

"Well, in a literal sense: it's a famous biblical quote from First Corinthians."

Toni supplied the familiar translation: "For now we see through a glass darkly."

"Right – King James," I said, peering around the mirror's perimeter without any luck. "But I can't find the rest of it – the biblical quotation, I mean – so what is the significance? 'No significance whatsoever'?"

"Maybe it's a way of identifying the portal – so we'll know," Cameron suggested, "how we can – what, find our way back?"

"That's as plausible a practicality as any, Cameron. Finding one doorway out of many along a round wall is riddle enough."

"Look," Toni said, "in there! You can see back into the Reading Room."

"It's one-way glass? Makes sense." Cameron also looked. "Whoa, hang on a minute: Terry, this is before we'd left the room!"

Indeed, we're still standing there, Bugsy's body lying between us and Inspector Hemiola.

Then everything started moving backwards, like instant rewind. Cathie stood up over Bugsy, Hemiola backed out and everything began clouding over.

I pointed toward our left where we could see more slightly glowing windows.

"There were other mirrors in the Reading Room. Think there's anything else we can see through them that might help us?"

"But what are we looking for," Cameron asked.

"I don't know," I said, "but maybe we'll see who really killed Bugsy?"

"Look, there's Bugsy – and Hemiola! What's that about?"

Indeed, Inspector Hemiola had his hands on his scarf and looked simply furious. Following a look of surprise, Bugsy returned to the book he was holding.

That's when we saw Hemiola leave the room while Bugsy noticed the bookmark – "that's the clue I found," I told them – then, putting the book down, Bugsy glanced around before backing out the door.

"But then, if Hemiola was in the room, that means he was there shortly before Bugsy was killed – and that means...?"

We'd "tuned in" too late for the murder, but, hoping for another viewpoint, we moved quickly on to the next mirror. This, I wasn't prepared for: our third mirror showed us something completely different.

"Hey," Cameron shouted, "my kidnapper! It's the violist!"

"That's the Big Guy getting ready to play for me earlier," I said.

I was scooting crab-like back into the room when the violist, clearly annoyed, had barely taken his bow off the string.

I peered into the mirror as the violist (surprised) nodded and backed outside.

"So I'm thinking the only reason he wanted to kidnap me," Cameron explained, "was so I'd hear him play his viola like it was some kind of special audition, whoever he thought I was."

"But if he wasn't just a hired musician, what's the point," I continued, "of his wanting to 'audition' for me, too?"

"You guys have me so lost," Toni complained, "but while you've been obsessing over these mirrors, have you noticed anything different?"

Either it was getting lighter or our eyes were getting used to it.

"But this bookmark you found, what's that about?" Cameron wondered if this was the fragment from Beethoven's letter Frieda had mentioned.

Toni gasped and stood still. "Whoa, a letter from Beethoven? Care to explain...?"

"It's too much for now, Toni," I apologized, "and frankly I'm not even sure I could, much less if you'd understand."

For some reason that made me think of the expression on Schnellenlauter's face, how we'd ended up giving Frieda this coded message about her lost twins and we're helping her find this missing quartet.

Now it was Cameron's turn to stand still. "Hey, remember what that cabby'd said about a 'big violin' before passing out?"

"He'd looked like he'd been scared to death. Do you think our strolling violist was trying to play for him, too?"

"The look on his face was kind of like the look on Schnellenlauter's."

Before we noticed what happened, Toni had scooted ahead to the next mirror.

"This one's the cute footman looking all surprised – hah, no wonder: he caught the maid and that red-headed guy kissing (eww!)."

Cameron caught up to her, continuing the tale. "Herring is now backing out, and Lisa spreads dust around on the tables."

"Yes, that's all very amusing," I told them. "Does it really tell us anything we need, considering we're on a mission?"

"Wait, there's one more mirror." Cameron hurried over and stopped. "Uhm, Terry...? Quickly?"

There was Maestro Schnellenlauter, holding a piece of paper up to the mirror. Then he folded it back into his pocket, taking another paper out from the book he'd picked up from the table.

"Did you see what that note said, Cameron?"

"Look for the tromp-l'oiel staircase, step on it, then make only left turns."

How could we see in this darkness, much less find a fake staircase – one of those two-dimensional paintings that look three-dimensional – with little more than a glow from the mirrors to light the way? Wherever we were, Pendulum Room or alternate astral plane, this place was huge and whatever else one thought, dark and silent. It was like the three of us had stumbled into some parallel universe which reminded me then of old, vague dreams. Once awakened, I could barely recall what'd happened, my very own trompe-l'oil experience.

"So a painting like that could be on the wall, perhaps the wall itself, perhaps somewhere between two of these mirrors?" Cameron examined the wall next to us but it was difficult to see.

"If it's on the wall, won't we go back the way we came?" Toni stepped back but nearly lost her balance.

We discovered the floor we stood on was a platform circling the room, fairly narrow and without any visible security railing. What lay beyond it was clearly a void, intensely dark and immensely deep.

Toni started whimpering. "I don't like this place."

I couldn't disagree with her. "Like Schnellenlauter said, we'd better step on it."

We huddled closer to the wall, this time, heading toward that first mirror. Cameron thought we could see better from there.

"Going counter-clockwise, we were headed back in time. Maybe we need the future?"

Gradually I became aware of soft, indistinct sounds somewhere off in the distance, probably nothing more than the circulation of blood. It was a gentle, whooshing kind of sound but it was coming closer.

"Hear that? It's like white noise," Cameron said. "Presumably unnoticeable but potentially annoying."

"No, it's more primordial than that – it's expanding."

Then it started to form sounds more varied, like slow, distant, undulating music.

"I wonder, is this 'Music of the Spheres'?"

It was indeed getting closer to us but faster than the whooshing sounds.

"No, listen," I said, "it's a string quartet – sounds like they're playing Beethoven?" The music took on definite shapes and rhythms.

"It does sound like Beethoven, though, doesn't it? But not anything I know..."

Soon, this glorious sound – a Beethoven quartet I'd never heard before – surrounded us. Cameron tried to record it on his phone.

"Is this really a Beethoven quartet," Toni asked, "one that's never been published? It sounds like one of the late works." She said she suddenly felt "all tingly" inside, "wired" by this unexpected discovery.

She was full of questions – "When was it written? Why was it lost?" – but mostly "how can we hear it here?"

My mind swirled at the possibilities. "Just listen!" The sound swept over us, seeped into us, became part of our blood.

I felt I stood on a great mountaintop, absorbed by immense celestial winds.

Even after reading Schnellenlauter's messages and Knussbaum's memoir, each lacking any definitive information, I would've been thrilled to find the manuscript, but never, even in my wildest imaginings, had I expected to hear it.

Cameron, holding his phone high in the air, turned in slow circles, listening. Toni stood spellbound, head held high, arms outstretched.

From somewhere in the distance, I became aware of a rapidly growing disturbance: the whooshing sound became more defined, more present, and threatened to engulf the string quartet's music with waves of white noise.

Beethoven's music turned into a joyous, cosmic dance. Small wonder he'd called it his Quartetto giocoso, contrasting with its companion Serioso.

This wasn't the time to think about realities: I just wanted to listen. But yet something made me open my eyes.

Something very large – very round – headed toward us.

I swore someone was giggling.

"The pendulum," I screamed, cutting through the music, "it's headed right for us."

"My God, it does exist!" Cameron jumped away.

"Not only does it exist, it's freaking huge!"

We barely escaped in time.

Presumably, it would not crash into the wall and smash us into roadkill, but I didn't want to find out, either.

"My God," Toni shuddered, "given the diameter of that thing and the fact I can't even see where it's hanging from, this room must be ginormous between its diameter and the pendulum cable's length."

How close it might come to the wall was determined by the diameter of the ball and our walkway's insubstantial perimeter, but when faced with destruction, my mind was never one for mathematical computations.

"No, that can't be right," Toni said. "I must have made an error."

We'd run a few more yards to safety.

It moved very slowly, a slow-motion wrecking ball, if that was less frightening, but it still came very close to us.

"Just in time," Cameron said. "You could almost reach out and touch it!"

"I tried figuring out the length of the cable that's holding the ball...?"

From somewhere came the distinct sound of laughter.

"If we'd been in here about four minutes, given the equation's standard gravity, that means the cable's length's about 1,460 meters. But that can't be right: that'd make this building, like, 480 stories tall!"

That meant Phlaumix Court's 'smaller' rotunda would be almost three times the height of the new World Trade Center's Freedom Tower.

"That's not possible," she said, shaking her head.

"That you made a mistake?"

"Or that you did that in your head," Cameron said, "in the dark?"

This time, the laughter was coming from above.

"Of course I can do it in my head, silly – in the dark," Toni scoffed, "what's odd about that? Can't you?"

There, on top of this wrecking ball was a woman, straddling the wire.

"Holy crap, guys, look there – on the pendulum."

Wild-looking, with her eyes bulging, she was a mass of wiry, pewter-gray hair.

"That crazy woman," Cameron said, "the one who locked us in the library!"

Riding the pendulum like a bronco, she clung to the cable, waving her free arm as she laughed down at us.

"So, we meet again, Dr. Kerr, you and your little assistant," she shrieked. "Don't think we're in Heiligenstadt any more, doctor."

The huge ball she straddled had slowly begun to pull away from us.

"Heiligenstadt?" Toni sounded dubious. "What does she mean...?"

"Yes, where Beethoven wrote that testament about his..."

"I know what it is..."

Actually, I wasn't quite sure I knew what she meant by it, either, and I had no idea who she was. But that fit of giggling I heard, however – now, that rang a bell...

"But you remember me, though, don't you, doctor?" It was that simpering voice. "You're the one who saved my life, then."

"In Heiligenstadt? You're that lawyer...?"

"Abner Kedaver," the voice giggled, "at your service."

"What do you mean, 'saved your life'?" The wiry-haired woman suddenly looked concerned.

"You, Klavdia, were going to leave me there."

Klavdia – damn, that name rang a distant bell: an alarum bell, an iron bell. A tintinabulum of memory floating gradually upward.

"Wait," Cameron said, "that hair. You're not Melissa Fourthought – you're... you're Klavdia Klangfarben!"

"Ah, wonderful – bravo, my boy." The voice of Abner Kedaver added a cheer.

The wrecking ball began to recede more quickly.

"Kedaver, you imbecile, get me off of this stupid thing," the woman shouted. "We must find that quartet – before he does!"

"This is all a dream, right," Toni asked, "a really, really bad dream...?"

Something cold brushed past us – something that giggled – as we hurried along the wall back towards the mirror we'd entered through. Something small and round hung before the mirror, glowing softly in the dimness. It was a small crystal globe like the one at the base of the grand staircase. Was this the labyrinth's entrance?

"The quartet must be hidden in the labyrinth – but where are those steps?"

Suddenly, glowing brighter, the globe scooted forward over what looked like an abyss.

"Wait – there," Cameron pointed. "See? Steps – in mid-air."

"Abner, get me down from here," Klavdia screamed, standing up on the pendulum. "And if you're really going to help me," she added, "find a way to kill Kerr and get that child, too."

"Just what I need," I said, "more pressure." Never very competitive, I always preferred working quietly. But yes, those were steps.

It appeared to be a narrow carpet – a runner – flying in empty space but the design on it looked very real. "Like a two-dimensional painting that has amazing depth: it's a style called trompe-l'oiel."

But a rug? Are these the steps Schnellenlauter had mentioned in his message? Or perhaps a trap-door into yet another dimension?

Holding on to Cameron's shoulder, I put my right foot on the rug, not sure what would happen – but nothing happened.

"Remember, he'd said 'step on it'?" Then Toni walked out onto the rug.

Immediately, it began to quiver and glow and Toni, clearly shaken, jumped back. But the rug instantly began a slow transformation.

"What was that," she asked, clinging to Cameron. "I felt all tingly inside!"

"Cameron, whatever happens," I said, "keep Toni safe, regardless what happens to me: I need to go find this missing quartet."

And I had to do it before Klavdia got there: time was essential. What did Schnellenlauter say – "only make left turns."

"So, you found the entrance to the labyrinth." It was Klavdia, getting closer.

The steps descended, unfolding one after the other, and opened into a series of branching paths which became the labyrinth itself. I began following the staircase into the darkness, not knowing what to expect.

"But the real prize isn't just the quartet," Klavdia shouted, pushing past me. "It's the Immortal Belovèd's last will and testament!"

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on Monday, August 22nd.]

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

(*) priest hole: in times of religious persecution during the reign of Elizabeth I, many houses of the Catholic nobility, following Henry VIII's "reformation," had secret spaces dubbed Priest Holes, a kind of "safety room" where a Roman Catholic priest could hide from "priest hunters" looking for anyone who might be implicated in Catholic plots to overthrow the Queen.

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

The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train





Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #34

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, dinner at Phlaumix Court has been moving along smoothly, despite all the excitement, including a possible murderer being on the loose, and in the midst of the vegetables, Kerr is given an odd message; the IMP arrive, looking for Dr. Kerr; a scream is heard and another body is found. Meanwhile, at Umberton, N. Ron Steele has something of an epiphany.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.


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

CHAPTER NINE concludes

A dark hallway, Phlaumix Court: the same time

"It must be here somewhere," the dark-clad figure was saying under her breath. She moved back and forth through the hallway, hoping not to be seen. Her wild, gray hair fidgeted cloud-like from side to side, looking up occasionally. She knew she wasn't supposed to be here.

Fortunately, the reception could prove a handy excuse. "Sorry, I'd dropped something earlier." Unfortunately, she wasn't supposed to be back here. How many times would they ask her to leave before they'd become suspicious?

Sneaking into the library after hours through the public side was one thing but wandering around the private wing was another. What she was really looking for would certainly be on the private side. Part of the problem was, she didn't really know what she was looking for, much less where it might've been hidden.

Right now she was looking for a small piece of paper she'd dropped, something very old but not, surprisingly, very brittle. She hadn't much chance to sort it out before the reception had started. It was a list of names in German written down by Anton Schindler, presumably the same Schindler who'd worked for Beethoven. But a list of what? Just a bunch of names, it looked like, and Schubert's wasn't the only one crossed off. There was this crudely drawn hand in the upper corner, an obvious clue.

"There it is again," she mumbled, freezing to a stop, "what the hell...?" It wasn't the first time she'd felt that. She looked around expecting to find someone staring at her. "But nobody's there...!" In the library, it had been just spooky, but out in the hallway, it felt different, more threatening, she thought – evil.

"Old girl," she told herself, "you're losing it, thinking like that, you know, after years of having lived on the streets. You think you'd be tougher than this, now, having landed something halfway respectable."

Not that working for SHMRG was remotely respectable, even by halves, she figured, but it was a job, wasn't it, and they didn't question her past as long as she got the job done. At least it got her access to the Phlaumix library's legendary Beethoven collection. Everything the old man had found pointed here.

"There it is again," she mumbled, clenching her teeth. She looked around. "Nothing!" She shuffled about more resolutely, convinced she had to locate this strange paper before she was discovered and told to leave. It had to be that tall, red-haired servant who was always skulking about, looking like he had nothing better to do.

"Klavdia... Oh, Klaaaaavdia..."

She froze in her tracks.

"Who's there?" Whoever it was knew her real name. "How is that possible?"

Everyone with SHMRG knew her as Melissa Fourthought.

"Who the hell are you?!"

"You don't remember me, Klavdia? I remember yoo-ooou..."

The disembodied voice did sound a bit familiar, she was reluctant to admit.

Plus, it seemed to be coming from above her, then all around her.

There was a slight giggle, really rather unbecoming for so serious a situation.

So why did she find herself so scared?

"Abner – is that you?" She tried to sound unconcerned, glad to see him.

"So you do remember our little project, yes?"

How could she forget killing off the great dead composers of the past?

Unfortunately, thanks to Dr. Kerr and his friend, everything had failed – then backfired.

"Why're you here, now, after all these years?

Considering she'd abandoned him back in Beethoven's day when their time-traveling devices were about to run out, this couldn't be good.

"Why, Klavdia, I'm surprised," and again he giggled. "I'm here to help you!"


The Vicar's Room at Umberton: several minutes later

Lucifer Darke had left Goodwood in his room downstairs and returned to his own suite upstairs where he found the sycophantic Igor Bieber waiting for him.

"Ah, sir, there you are," Bieber said, fawning over him, opening the door. "Word is, sir, the pageant's gone very well."

"Well, that's amazing," he snorted, "given Scricci's record. All he needed was to have another breakdown. He'd had another episode, earlier?"

"Yes, sir, that's what I heard, something at that joint reception," Bieber said.

"Yes, the great party thrown by Phlaumix Court to celebrate the pageant's kick-off," Darke said with a laugh, then sat down. "Perhaps he'd had one too many joints, eh?" He sorted through some papers.

"I'm not sure," Bieber replied, missing the joke. "Faiello said it was something in a drink that might've set him off."

"Hmm, yes, I'm sure it was," Darke mumbled. "And he'd gone off raving that crazy bitch Fictitia LaMouche was after him." He shook his head: anything that went wrong was her fault, it seemed.

"What is it about Scricci," he wondered, "beyond blind (and possibly deaf) loyalty, that Steele retains him like some aging butler?"

Darke had made every effort to steer clear of Scricci's latest hare-brained scheme, this ridiculous reality TV show – especially that name – arguing that it was too "overt" for someone whose responsibility was covert operations.

The fact it didn't end up a fiasco – yet – is something that will only extend Scricci's presence in the SHMRG hierarchy and that's something he and a few others at Corporate Headquarters couldn't tolerate. And that's another thing, now: where is "Corporate Headquarters" these days, after all? "Not in New York, not even in London!"

No, they're in some tiny little vicarage in the wilds of suburban Surrey, not even a real office with a receptionist, all because their CEO and fearless leader was hiding out from the police.

The once mighty corporation had become more like a revival of Moby Dick than a company feared in the entertainment world, with Steele as Captain Ahab chasing Rob Sullivan's opera as the White Whale.

But Steele's wound – the result of yet another loyal retainer's incompetence – isn't healing: he is weak and vulnerable, ripe for replacement...

Bieber coughed.

"Uhm... sir? Will that be all?" Bieber stood there, feeling awkward.

"Ah, sorry, my mind was off on a new project needing some attention. Actually," Darke added, "speaking of old projects, though..."

Darke shuffled some papers around on his desk as if looking for something. Nothing indicated there ever was such a project.

"Do you know of any plan to eliminate the conductor of Sullivan's opera, perhaps someone who's taken the idea upon themselves?"

"Other than intimidating Sullivan's cousin into canceling the production, I haven't heard anything."

"This one goes beyond intimidation, it would seem: somebody killed the old conductor and apparently made it look like natural causes. I mean, the man was ancient, after all – maybe he just keeled over?"

"Well, we're still waiting to hear from Agent Luthier about who killed Mumwidge."

"Maybe they're related – but that doesn't make sense."

Just then, his phone rang, the "Darke Side."

Realizing the call was from Agent Lex Luthier, he quickly waved Bieber away.

The report was not good, Lex told him: something weird was going on.

Agent Díaz-Éray who's consulting for SHMRG reported recognizing one of the servants there, someone she'd seen in the hallway at Umberton.

"A spy?" Lucifer Darke was not thrilled at the idea of being infiltrated.

"Could be," Lex continued. "The IMP just arrived."

Lex suggested he warn Goodwood.

Ringing off, Darke considered this.

"Or maybe not..."


A dark hallway, Phlaumix Court: a moment later

So Abner Kedaver showed up wanting to help his old friend, Klavdia Klangfarben: after all, what could be the harm in that, you might ask yourself? The thing is, they had a history, as they say, Klavdia and Abner: she understood how this could be a problem. Thinking she had left Beethoven dead that evening in Heiligenstadt, she hurried off, leaving her colleague behind to fend for himself. Her own time-traveling device had almost run out; she assumed his had, too.

Had she abandoned him to start a new life in 1802, a man who'd given legal advice to Brahms and Mahler? There was just enough power in her device to return to her childhood. Yes, she'd saved her mother but then couldn't get back to the present. Biggest mistake of her lives, that had been!

It didn't take much for her to figure out Dr. Kerr had won. Beethoven had not been killed: her mission failed. To top it off, her mother, then, had that illegitimate child, Fern Geliebter. And Klavdia'd been stuck in the past observing her childhood as an adult standing on the periphery without any legal identity.

Dead people from Harmonia-IV were invisible to the living when they crossed over, and now her sidekick, the one she'd discovered on the Other Side – in that parallel universe, Harmonia-IV – had returned to help?

Kedaver, aside from being dead, had the looks of a Hollywood star if you could see him – tall, slim, dark, decidedly handsome (somewhat like Clark Gable) – with the voice of someone like Peter Lorre. He didn't sound like he was particularly angry but what other reason could there be for this reunion except for revenge?

"So, you see, Klavdia – or perhaps you don't" (again, she heard him giggle) "I've been following you these past few weeks and you're so very close to whatever it is you've been looking for."

"If I find out the Immortal Belovèd's identity, it will make me famous!"

"Why? Are you jealous, Klavdia? – Just a little?"

"Hell, no," she spat back, "I detest Beethoven – both him and his music!"

" But you want to reveal her identity and find that missing quartet? I know where they are – so, follow me..."

*-*

The Reading Room, Phlaumix Court: a few minutes later

After hearing the scream and immediately running down the hall toward the noise, I found Lisa the maid standing in the Reading Room's open doorway, pointing.

There, lying on the floor inside, was Bugsy, his neck twisted, a look of horror on his face, quite clearly dead.

"What happened," I asked, "did you see anything?" I checked his pulse – nothing.

"No, nothing," she blubbered, still pointing at Bugsy.

"Call the police," I said. "The killer can't have gotten too far away."

"But they're already here, sir," she began explaining. "They're looking for that terrorist or one of them or something or... you!"

"No, no, we've gotten that all cleared up – big guy, plays the viola?"

Lisa ran screaming down the hallway, still pointing, this time pointing at me.

I heard other footsteps, people running toward me.

There was a book in Bugsy's right hand with a familiar brownish binding – a copy of Frieda's book, Melissa Fourthought's novel. And there was a piece of paper sticking out of it – a bookmark.

Was this what Schnellenlauter had been talking about: why hadn't I seen it? Or was this another copy of the book?

Was this what Frieda remembered during dinner and had asked Bugsy to do: go retrieve a second copy she'd forgotten about? Did Schnellenlauter leave this for her to find after his last visit here?

I reached down and quickly pulled it out, expecting to find more code. It looked like it was part of an old letter, definitely in German but there was something scribbled in the margins. The handwriting was barely legible but clearly recognizable: only Beethoven could've written this, but the margin was much neater – more recent.

And yes – damn! – it was written in code. I had to find Frieda. Judging from the hubbub, there wasn't much time.

This had to be the directions on how to find Beethoven's lost quartet!

"Oh, but wait – what's this?" What a relief. Someone already solved the message, or had at least tried to solve it.

I could make out just a few words – "missing... quartet... mirror... pendulum... labyrinth"...?

"What the hell...?" Pendulum... labyrinth? After all, wasn't this marked the Pendulum Room? How do you get into the Pendulum Room?

I'd been in this reading room once already, just a narrow, semi-circular space, full of mirrors and paintings, bookshelves and chairs. Vector said it was of no significance whatsoever which implied quite the reverse.

And Bugsy was lying in front of a mirror, possibly the largest one. What was this, some kind of secret portal?

I put my hand forward, touching the mirror, half expecting it to shimmer, the rabbit hole into some parallel universe's wonderland.

Suddenly, a flashback to a previous adventure overwhelmed me – when I'd met Beethoven.

But that was absurd, like an old dream, some other place and time – no, another place in time, someplace long ago.

This was getting weirder and weirder, I thought, like I'd entered a maze.

I pulled my hand back from the mirror – nothing had happened – then realized: there were several numbers written around its perimeter.

It was a coded entry like the library but a slightly different set-up: hitting the right sequence would open the portal. My mind was racing to find the pattern but it made no sense.

Maybe I was too close to the mirror to get the whole picture. Then I realized all the numbers were backwards.

There was another mirror hanging directly behind me and reflected in it I could read the numbers on the larger mirror. It was a Fibonacci Sequence but built on a series of higher numbers.

Suddenly the doorway was full of people – servants and other guests had arrived – all expressing much concern about what they saw. From the entrance, I now stood on the other side of Bugsy's body.

Burnson and Vector were the first to enter followed by Herring and Sidney. Burnson knelt down and checked his step-father's neck.

"I heard the maid scream and found her standing there," I said, pointing, "after I came running in from the bathroom. He had no detectable pulse. The maid, I guess, went for the police."

Vector motioned everybody to move back since it was apparently a crime scene as more people continued to arrive and gawk, suggesting to Mr. Burnson he should go break the news to his mother.

In the ensuing commotion and given Bugsy's death, there was no way now that I could figure out the mirror's code.

"What's happened, what's going on?" The voice sounded brusquely authoritative and vaguely familiar.

The man pushing his way through the crowd announced himself as Chief Inspector Hemiola of the International Music Police, London Division.

"Ah, we meet again, Dr. Kerr," he said, seeing me facing the crowd. "We've just arrived but, I see, too late."

Maurie squeezed his way in and explained, "Our host had gotten up from the dinner table, followed shortly by Dr. Kerr. Not much later we heard a woman scream. Then we ran down here."

Cameron, leading Toni by the hand, came in, maneuvering around the edge of the body, and stood close by my side. In the distance, I heard Lady Vexilla shouting, "How could this possibly happen?"

I explained again for Hemiola's benefit what had happened, how I left dinner for the bathroom, then heard the maid scream.

"So you were not the one who had found the body, Dr. Kerr," Hemiola said – I shook my head – "but you were close enough to be next on the scene?" I nodded my head.

At this point, a thin figure, presumably female, dressed like a hired assassin, pushed into the room and reached for Toni.

"There you are, we've been looking for you: you're needed at the pageant."

Toni shrank back and said, "No, I had been told to go home."

"Somebody was mistaken, my child: come with me."

Stepping forward with military precision, Cathie explained to this woman from the pageant Toni had been summarily dismissed from the contestants and that she's staying with Lady Vexilla's family until she can return home.

I whispered in Cameron's ear under no circumstances are we to let anyone from SHMRG's pageant take control of Frieda's great-great-granddaughter.

Almost instinctively, Toni sensed danger and moved to hide behind Cameron and me as the woman inched forward, her hand outstretched. When she went to step over Bugsy's body, Chief Inspector Hemiola stopped her.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, whoever you think you are: this is a crime scene! I don't need everybody trampling on the evidence. So until I give you the 'all clear,' stay out of my way."

The woman in black showed him her badge, saying she's with Special Forces. I noticed the outline of a red hand.

Quickly, I leaned forward and whispered to Cameron that she's an agent with the Guidonian Hand out to eliminate Beethoven's heirs and we must protect Toni at all cost from this woman's nefarious clutches.

"But what're we going to do," Cameron asked, "since we're trapped in here. Or have you discovered there's another exit, somewhere?"

"As a slight matter of fact, I have," and then I proceeded to tell him what I had found moments earlier: the letter fragment in the book; the mirror with the Fibonacci entry code...

"If I may have your attention, Dr. Kerr," Hemiola interrupted, brusquer than before, "I'd like to return to the crime scene, especially having met you at an earlier one – actually, at two earlier ones."

He continued, explaining how we'd met at the restaurant of the Mandeville Hotel, then went backstage at the Academy's concert hall.

"You disappeared rather adroitly after Maestro Schnellenlauter's body was removed from the scene, a note mentioning you left by the victim, and before we discovered violinist Norman Drang had been murdered at the hotel."

"Have you figured out the message Schnellenlauter left? It actually had nothing to do with telling us who his murderer is. It was something he wanted me to do should anything happen to him."

"Be that as it may," Hemiola said, smirking, "I'm arresting you for the murder of this... – uhm, what's this guy's name?"

Sir Charles stepped forward and said, "He is Sir Bognar Regis, Baron of Snaffingham, husband of my cousin Lady Vexilla Regis, granddaughter of the 11th Marquess of Quackerly and current resident of Phlaumix Court. I, for the record," he added, leaning forward deferentially, "am the current Marquess of Quackerly, Sir Charles Leighton-Quackerly, at your service."

Hemiola looked around for the other agents but could only find Agent Libitum.

"Is someone taking this down? Where're the others?"

"They're all out looking for Dr. Kerr, sir."

"You idiots, I've found him!"

While everyone else was distracted, I told Cameron the numbers around the mirror formed a sequence like the library's security pad, only you must view them in the mirror opposite it to read them.

"Piece of cake," Toni said, as she began tapping at the various numbers. "Cameron, hit that one, I can't reach it."

Hemiola spluttered at Libitum, ordering him to get the other agents here, ASAP, and seal everything off till the SOCOs arrived. "And get Dr. Rigorian out here as soon as he can make it."

Constable Drumm and the local municipal police pushed their way into the room.

Sir Charles started shouting, "Off with his head!"

Then the mirror's surface suddenly turned into a shimmering blueish-white pool of light.

Cameron immediately stuck his arm into the brightness.

He grabbed Toni's hand, she reached back and took mine – and we disappeared.


= = = = = = = = = = = = =

to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on Friday, August 19th]

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

The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train


Monday, August 15, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #33

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Inspector Hemiola of the International Music Police discovers the whereabouts of his suspect, Dr. Kerr; while confusion reigns at Phlaumix Court as people think there's a terrorist in their midst though Kerr and Cameron begin to suspect there is, instead, a murderer - and one who plays the viola! Then Vector the Butler makes an unsettling discovery in Maurice Harty's room.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.


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

CHAPTER NINE

The Dining Room, Phlaumix Court: later that evening

Lady Vexilla explained, with fewer than twenty guests, we would still dine in the "more intimate" dining room and save the Banquet Hall for the wedding. She told me she saw no need for ostentation on such a night, given the weather and "this most horrid excitement."

Once the reception broke up and the Pageant's performance was about to begin, everyone else worked their way down the hall elegantly led by Lady Vexilla and Sir Bognar, the rest falling in behind.

Burnson passed me and whispered the local police have in the meantime returned.

"After correcting Constable Drumm's assumptions, he's on the trail of our large violist. With luck, we'll have no further trouble tonight."

I pushed Frieda in her wheelchair into the room as Cameron escorted Toni, the two youngest people among the evening's guests.

Cameron and I were, as expected, seated at opposite ends of the table and I was surrounded by rather imposing strangers. Once we'd found our places, the servants filed in and began to serve. With the addition of Toni, there were now fourteen of us "at table," a welcome relief for those dreading thirteen guests.

Burnson's sister Tabitha, fortunately, was the strategically placed buffer between Maurie and me while Canon Pettifogger droned on on my left. Sir Charles sat directly across from me, LauraLynn holding up on his right.

Lady Vexilla, seated at my end of the long table, gave the signal and servants began ladling out the mock-turtle soup.

"Sidney, good heavens," she said to the footman serving her, "you've been wounded!"

As Sidney bowed in acknowledgment, Vector confirmed his "instrumentality in rescuing Master Cameron not once but twice during the late ruckus."

"Am I to understand you also played some role in this incident, Rudyard?"

"Yes, m'lady," he said blushing, "I'm afraid so..."

"Well, I'm glad you both were so helpful in looking after our guests."

There seemed to be no consternation among the guests that the "alleged" kidnapper – at least the second one – was still at-large. Perhaps the fact Cameron had been safely rescued made any further danger moot?

He had deferentially agreed not to press any charges against Herring and deKoy, but issues with our free-range violist were different.

Frieda tapped her glass and the general conversation quickly came to a stop.

"I wanted to introduce a newly arrived guest since most of you have not had the opportunity of meeting her yet." She put her hand on the girl's wrist. "This is Antonie Auvoir-duBois who's a math wizard but more importantly a composer."

Frieda explained how Schnellenlauter's last gift to her was to locate her great-great-granddaughter, the most important aspect of her surprise arrival.

"I am saddened that Schnelly will never know the joy he's given me."

Cathie was the first to ask the child who her favorite composer was.

"Why, Beethoven, of course," she responded, "who else?"

"Quite logical, really," Frieda agreed, "under the circumstances."

"How so?" Canon Pettifogger asked.

By this time, I noticed Sir Charles had managed to get Burnson's attention and started pointing into his bowl of soup.

"Perhaps after dessert, my dear," Mrs. Dean said, looking around toward the girl, "you could play something by Beethoven for us? It is so nice," she added, "to hear young people play real music."

"Perhaps, Mrs. Dean," Frieda suggested, "she could play something she has composed herself?"

"Oh, we'd much rather hear Beethoven, wouldn't we?"

Charles started pantomiming pouring something into his soup, then holding his hands up to this throat like he was being poisoned.

I could barely see Burnson's reaction as he resolutely continued eating his soup.


The Public Wing of Phlaumix Court: that evening

The opening night of the reality show, "Pimp My Prodigy!", was already underway when producer Rhonna deMille told her assistant she had misgivings about going live. Who expected the reception to turn into such a muddle with that idiot. All the contestants were flustered by his "news."

"With each of them on edge, how can they focus on their performance?" It didn't help she'd already noticed a certain tension during the opening number, a tribute to Murder on the Orient Express.

Tootie Ghibatti thought nerves were good for them, "keeps them on their toes."

DeMille didn't disagree but felt better if they're on their own dime, then. "This show has disaster written all over it."

"Besides," Tootie said, "the meat of the pageant" – the competition itself – "would be taped and edited for broadcast the following week."

"Whose idea was it to use this as a theme for the opening?" DeMille wasn't interested in anything beyond Pop Culture. "Geez, Agatha Christie's like two hundred years old – might as well use Shakespeare!"

Tootie was pretty sure Hugh Brissman, the executive director, could've made it work but she thought his assistant was pretty weak.

"Look," deMille pointed out, "we're already behind schedule. That clarinetist can't keep up. We should tell the conductor to play faster."

And there still weren't enough glitzy special effects to keep an audience interested.

As it was, they had to put Brissman's assistant, Sven Galli, on the opposite side of the offstage area from Scricci or people'd be slipping in pools of blood before the night was out. Scricci himself was still too wired after his near-death experience at that reception. Atello never thought he'd need downers to perform.

The only way Badger Bronson could convince himself to go back on camera was to start drinking copious amounts of alcohol: he thought it helped give his delivery a more suave manner than usual.

Faiello was relaying several messages from Maestro Dumbledown but Mumwidge was nowhere to be found and nobody knew where she was.

Besides, whatever happened to that old broad, Fourthought? She's supposed to work backstage.

Colangelo, working security, was handed the APB about that terror suspect next door.

"Guys, he's that extra violist Mumwidge had hired!"


The Dining Room, Phlaumix Court: several minutes later

The hors d'ouvres course had been ruined as the reception descended into chaos but the dinner itself progressed smoothly through the soup and the salmon courses. Clearing away the artichoke salad, Sidney and Herring began serving the roast lamb which, like everything else, was prepared to perfection.

How much the others in the room knew about the significance of Beethoven's presence in this house, I could only imagine. But at least I knew it was a secret needing to be kept.

Cameron and I, despite earlier distractions, tried to discuss the whereabouts of Beethoven's lost quartet with Frieda but had no luck. Whatever Schnellenlauter may have found so far had not revealed its hiding place. No doubt he would have had something else to show her in person, perhaps even this missing fragment of a letter.

The Beethoven Collection in the Phlaumix Court library began under the supervision of Lord Sidney Leighton, the 9th Marquess of Quackerly, who, early in life, developed an intense passion for the music of Beethoven. It was then expanded by his grandson Rudyard, an inveterate collector of original manuscripts and letters as well as first editions.

Whatever it was Schnellenlauter may have discovered in folders full of uncatalogued items, I wondered if the quartet wasn't also here. But if Melissa Fourthought was researching Beethoven, too, had she found it already?

As the footmen began serving the platters of meat with crisply broiled vegetables, I noticed Vector come in, looking somewhat disturbed. He first approached Burnson and whispered to him (I couldn't see his response) and then also whispered something to Frieda who, noticing my glance with curiosity, nodded in my direction before she answered him.

Waiting until Sidney and the vegetables had passed, Vector then came down and handed me a folded old piece of paper, saying it was found outside the library, where perhaps I might've dropped it.

I said I didn't think so, but he urged me to take it, so I glanced at it before pocketing it.

Sir Charles seemed quite interested.

"Nothing important," I said. "Something from my agent."

It was a series of names in old German with Schubert's crossed off.

The signature at the bottom was Anton Schindler's.


On The Road to Phlaumix Court: that evening

"It was a dark and stormy night" kept playing through Hemiola's beleaguered brain, one of those unwelcome clichés that bore through his head like an ear-worm. The snow was blinding and the wind, howling – more clichés for the descriptively challenged – but there was nothing he could do.

They had stopped to grab some take-out at the Curry Palace before heading out of London, and now they're almost there. He figured, barring any problems on the back roads, maybe another twenty minutes.

It was unlikely in this weather Dr. Kerr could escape from their clutches: unless he too had a snow-worthy vehicle like the IMP's indomitable Ludwig Van, there was little chance he'd get away again.

Looking out the window, all Hemiola saw was a heavy blanket of snow, just like the night Gloria had been killed.

The memory of his partner's body like that, lying bloody in the snow, was as fresh as yesterday despite the years. Trying to shake his mind free of her, thoughts began swirling even more.

"Do you have to watch that stupid show?" He had to snap at something, might as well be "Pimp Your Prodigy!"

"Don't worry, boss," O'Rondo said, "we're almost there!"

Libitum turned the TV down.

"Damn," Sforzato barked, "the GPS must be stuck!"

"Hurry, before Kerr kills again!" Hemiola hoped it'd be this show's moronic host...


In the Dining Room, Phlaumix Court: moments later

Vector was clearly feeling uncomfortable, glancing around from his post by the sideboard, but it had little to do with the progress of this evening's dinner which had proceeded flawlessly to dessert, a perfectly delicious and beautifully molded blancmange, just one of Mrs. French's many exquisite specialties. But after having to tell that woman – the one all dressed in black – she's in the wrong part of the house, he'd noticed that Herring said a few words to her before she left.

He felt tension was at a minimum by having Herring serve on the side of the table opposite young Mr. Cameron. But perhaps there was something else going on: "who was that woman, then?" Given the smirk he wore, Herring no doubt was up to something fishy: "what had he been saying to that woman?"

Frieda enjoyed the conversation with her newly-discovered great-great-granddaughter, finding out more about her and some of the works she's already composed. To Frieda's surprise, the child was quite prolific but very careful about performances.

"The Maestro," she explained, "had really liked some piano pieces I've just finished and a string quartet I'd started last month."

She meant to bring a copy of it with her to show Schnellenlauter, but she'd accidentally left it in another notebook.

"What did you say, dear – in another book...?" Frieda cried out, "that's it!"

Several people put their spoons down and stared toward Frieda who, in great excitement, looked around for Vector who had just followed the footmen out the door, clearing away the rest of the dishes.

Turning to Bugsy, she asked him if he wouldn't mind going to the Reading Room for her – "just a small favor."

Some time ago she had left a second copy of her novel there – he'd recognize it, with its faded brownish cover – "it's probably sitting out on one of the tables just inside the door."

"My dear," Bugsy said, smiling, "even if it's the last thing I do. But as we're no longer thirteen at table, it's safe to be the first to leave. (*) I'll return before the port."

Lady Vexilla knitted her brows and gave her husband a slightly disapproving scowl.

With that, he stood up and excused himself.


In the IMP's Ludwig Van: the same time

"It's only telling us to make left turns, boss" O'Rondo said. "Only left."

Hemiola felt they were going in circles but that's what the GPS said.

On the TV, still too audible for Hemiola's taste, that joke of a newscaster was interviewing one of the judges backstage.

"Who is that guy, anyway," Agent Libitum asked.

"You mean who's Desi Finado!?"

"Well, her, too, but I meant the reporter."

"Didn't he used to be with Fox News?"

Hemiola tugged his scarf tighter.

Desiderio Finado, Fermata explained, was a 'he,' a big pop-star who sang opera and considered by many the latest Andrea Boccelli.

"Yeah," Hemiola wondered, "whatever happened to that guy? Haven't heard him in years."

"Oh, fabulous," Sforzato shouted, "he'll be singing Send in the Clowns!"

Hemiola cringed.

"Don't worry, boss," O'Rondo said, "we're already here."

Barely visible in front of them rose a huge house atop a hill, the snow swirling without let-up through the clearing.

"Welcome to Phlaumix Court, boss," Agent O'Rondo said after driving over two speed-bumps.

"Wonderful! We made it before the big finale – we can watch it live!"

"We're here to arrest a murderer," Hemiola growled.

With that, they waded through the drifting snow and rang the front doorbell. Agent Bond, ever alert, brought up the rear.

Drawing their guns, the agents fanned out across the Great Hall.

"Find Kerr!"


The men's room and the Reading Room: simultaneously

Shortly after Bugsy excused himself, I did the same, making a quick apology that I needed to check out one of the house's more spacious bathrooms. I left behind my dessert, a rather bland dish they called a blancmange, a shivery gelatinous thing, pale and sweetly tasteless.

I had hoped by now the kidnapper would no longer be at large, that the police had managed to apprehend him and that soon, under their interrogation, we would discover what his affiliations were.

That paper Vector handed me which I needed to check was quite old. Of course I'd need to verify the handwriting – could this be Schindler's list? – which meant it could be 180 years old.

Unfortunately, there was somebody already in the stall, probably one of the servants.

"Fortunately," I thought, "I only need the urinal..."


In the meantime, Bugsy had already closed the Reading Room door behind him and began searching through the books that were left out on the tables, hoping someone hadn't already gone and reshelved it.

"That would be Dr. Eliasen's job," Bugsy said, "he would know where to..."

Then he became conscious somebody had followed him.

"Ross Budd! My god – you!" the voice said.

"Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time," Bugsy thought.

With a glimmer of recognition, he turned to see a figure behind him.


Back in the men's room, someone had invaded his privacy: was he found? Nepomuck had barely hidden himself in the stall. He held his viola at the ready, his bow arm poised to play.

"If need be," he thought, "I can kill my way out of here."

He had to be careful. Who was it?

He wasn't really sure, as he peered through the crack in the door.

"Ah, what luck," he realized. "It's Dr. Kerr!"

Nepomuck was prepared to start playing the viola when he heard a scream.


It was the maid, Lisa, who found the body lying there and screamed.

"OMG," she wailed, "he looks ever so dead!"

It was Sir Bugsy lying there with a book in his outstretched hand.

Hearing footsteps behind her, Lisa quickly turned around.

"You," she screamed, and ran away, still screaming.

A crowd started forming instantly. 


*-*

Osmond Goodwood's Room at Umberton: the same evening

After Holly Burton had taken away the last of Mr. Goodwood's dinner tray, the man formerly known as N. Ron Steele turned down the television set. He hadn't been there a whole day yet and already he felt constrained; but being in hiding gave him few options. Ever since he had been shot at Schweinwald, life has not been easy for the CEO turned man-on-the-lam, a wounded criminal. It was like his luck had run out, his meteoric rise finally stalled.

The fact this wound refused to heal was one thing to deal with: being confined to a wheelchair was something else. He used to laugh at handicapped people before – now, he's one of them. Not being able to go up stairs bothered him, cutting down his independence, because he knew the rooms upstairs were bigger.

All because some minion had gotten carried away and accidentally shot his target instead of merely scaring the man into submission. The plan had been to cancel Sullivan's opera, not to murder the composer. True, a few people had died along the way – more than they knew – yet they still insisted on performing the thing.

"That final act would've given away one of my earliest murders," Steele thought, "make some well-meaning detective look into the past." It was the only one he'd committed himself, but police called it suicide.

And now LauraLynn Harty was insistent on staging the damn opera in London, Rob Sullivan's cousin intent on keeping it alive. Alas, intimidation wasn't what it used to be, not against someone like her.

But the good news was that concert suite premiering tonight had been canceled. There'd been no explanation given: presumably the weather.

Holly said she'd heard it on the radio, saw the cancellation posted on-line. It was meant to be a major fund-raiser. How could this not hurt her chances to stage the complete opera later?

And now Monty, his IT Director, has heard through the internet grapevine that the conductor died backstage of a "heart attack." There were even rumors it might've been murder but nothing anyone could prove.

Steele had said he wanted this production stopped: his new "Thomas á Becket Doctrine" meant he didn't need to explain how.

And here they're staging this pageant in the house where LauraLynn's getting married.

"Surely, she won't think that's a coincidence, hmmm?"

That was some of his own ingenious plotting which very much amused him.

This whole pageant itself was a stupid idea, one everyone thought would have made him laugh, but he saw its potential.

"We should hold it in one of those grand old houses," he explained when Scricci first suggested the project to him, "you know, like 'The Amazing Race' and 'Survivor' meet something like Downton Abbey!"

And of course, he had just the place while Darke worked on the National Trust to approve leasing them a house. It was one of Holly's old school friends who really came in handy. When she asked her about using Phlaumix Court, Alice told her husband, Gordon Nott, who's the property's manager with the Trust.

It took some pressure to cut through the red tape, Steele had complained, but it was worth it in the end. Scricci, of course, hated the place, so old-fashioned, not that Steele really cared. Not like there weren't other problems getting this silly show off the ground aside from marketing Classical in a Pop World.

He left it up to Scricci to choose those contestants who looked good, could dress well and fit a certain image. Of lesser importance was how well they played or even what they played.

Just as they broke away for one of SHMRG's overly produced cross-over commercials which featured one of SHMRG's hottest classical pianists hamming it up with one of SHMRG's hottest rock bands on the planet, there was a gentle knock at the door, barely audible above the TV, followed by the resonant voice of Lucifer Darke.

"Sorry to bother you, Mr. – Goodwood," he intoned. "Is this a convenient time?"

Not that he needed to watch the pageant or was desperate for company, but still, no, it wasn't a convenient time.

"Yes, yes, Mr. Darke, come in, come in." Steele thought it sounded forced enough he'd take the hint, but he didn't.

"Ah, but you're watching the pageant," Darke said, nodding superfluously toward the set.

"This may not be so silly a plan after all, you know, Darke? Old Scricci may be on to something here."

Judging from what he'd seen introduced on the show so far, Steele explained, they shouldn't have many problems marketing these kids – and that's with him having the volume turned almost all the way down.

"Several of them are already looking hot enough with all the right moves, most people won't care if they can play."

Steele said the reviews – most of them had been completed earlier that afternoon – were waiting for "the final bell" before being e-mailed to the waiting world, not to mention SHMRG's live tweeters and bloggers.

Then Steele reached over and picked up his nearly empty tumbler of Scotch, suggesting that Darke should pour himself a drink. Raising his glass, Steele offered a quick salute "for a job well done."

Since Darke was reluctant to take credit for something he wasn't sure about, he hesitated before asking, "in relation to what?"

"How did you make it look like 'natural causes,' knocking off the old maestro – or is that giving away trade secrets?" Steele smiled before he added, "come now, you mean you've already forgotten it?"

Darke tasted his Scotch warily, wondering what the hell Steele was up to.

"You know, the guy conducting tonight's concert with music from Sullivan's cursèd opera – found his body backstage and canceled the concert!"

"I'm not sure that SHMRG can officially take credit for that one, sir."

"Then, if we didn't kill Schnellenlauter – who did?"


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(*) first to leave: In social situations, if having 13 guests wasn't considered unlucky enough, it was generally thought unlucky to be the first of the 13 guests to leave the dinner table.

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to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, August 17th...]

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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train