Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #37

With only one more episode after this one, which is good news, in the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Dr. Kerr faces the music (not just Beethoven's missing string quartet) when he realizes there's also bad news: not only has he run into Klavdia Klangfarben and her invisible sidekick Abner Kedaver, he's also found Nepomuck and his Killer Viola! As Cameron takes Toni to safety, Dr. Kerr must race into the labyrinth alone to find the Last Will & Testament of the Immortal Belovéd – before Klangfarben does!

(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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The Labyrinth, inside the Pendulum Room: continuing from before

"Make only left turns," Schnellenlauter had told us in that mirror's magic message – it must've been magic that allowed him to leave that message for me. "Where are we, anyway," I wondered: it's like another one of those strange dimensions I've gotten myself into again. "Wait – again?"

As if the Pendulum Room weren't strange enough, here was a room that opened up out of a small rectangular carpet that kept unfolding into a room of its own, suspended in the void.

But this was more than your garden-variety labyrinth with boxwood hedges and paving stones and a lot of pseudo-Medieval, meditational mumbo-jumbo. First of all, it was more like a maze with numerous branching paths. Technically, labyrinths shouldn't have wrong turns and dead-ends – no, this was a maze – but these walls also had windows and doorways!

M.C. Escher, "Relativity"
I don't remember too many labyrinths – not that I've ever walked through many before (any, actually) – that had steps to climb. But I kept making my left turns, assuming right turns were wrong turns. Curiously, I noticed that frequently, had I made a right turn, there was a doorway: what would be beyond that door?

As I was walking down a short flight of steps, I looked ahead and saw the Klangfarben woman through a window. However, she was walking up a flight of steps – but on the underside!

I knew it was a kind of race to see who reached the center first, but how was this a race? (I would never be good with those crop mazes farmers made at Halloween.) If she'd made a wrong – that is, right – turn somewhere, she would, I imagined, never make it to the center, right?

"Ah, Dr. Kerr," I heard her say. Curiously the voice came from behind me, yet I clearly saw her before me. "So we meet again – and again!" She hurried up – or down – the steps.

Another turn: I saw her once more through a window going down a more distant flight as I now walked up. Again she spoke but now her voice sounded closer rather than farther away.

"You think this'll be like Lübeck or Heiligenstadt, don't you? But you don't have your little assistant with you, do you!"

That's right – Cameron had been instrumental in helping me foil... wait – "foil her nefarious plot to kill off the Great Composers of the Past!" Now I remember – and chasing her through Harmonia-IV, as well. By eliminating composers who'd most influenced other great composers, she could've reduced the influence of classical music by – well... a lot!

And all because of something I'd once said in a class she took of mine, something about how "perception is everything." I'd forgotten she was one of my students: she looks so much older.

"If only I hadn't gone back in time once more to rescue Mother," she moaned, raising her arms in defiant rage. "Then she would've stayed dead; that other child would never have been born. And just maybe, I would've met Earl King instead and my daughter would've grown up to fulfill the old gypsy's prophecy!"

She shuffled off around a corner and as I rounded my next left turn, she was on the other side of the window to my right, not six feet from where I was standing.

She glowered at me again, as if looks alone could kill. She didn't want me screwing up her plan this time.

"You see, once I find the Belovèd's Will and prove I'm her great-great-great-however-many-times-great-granddaughter, I can prove I'm that little girl's aunt. I'll have her sign that contract with SHMRG and control her fortune, too!"

With a great cackling laugh, Klangfarben opened a door and disappeared through it. (However intelligent she might have been to figure all this out, she certainly was a bit over-the-top, even for a villain.)

I kept forging on ahead, making several more left turns, passing several doorways and only occasionally glimpsing Klavdia through a window.

Turning one more corner, there she stood, in front of me, a doorway left ajar: she'd reached the center before me.

A bust of Beethoven flanked by two angels adorned an ornate golden casket.

Between the angels there unfurled a banner on which was engraved the line

O Du, der mein Brunnen des Gedankenblitz bist!

which I had seen before, carved on an unnamed tombstone outside Castle Schweinwald: "O you who are my Fountain of Inspiration!" Was this the Immortal Belovèd's actual grave – here?

Klavdia quickly raised the lid.

Reaching inside she found another box, a smaller, nearly flat one like a safety deposit box but made of gold. She rested it on the casket's edge and, oblivious of my presence, opened it.

What was I going to do, I thought, since I had no weapon: how was I going to steal the prize?

The room we stood in erupted and rose into the air, breaking through the ceiling, the void opening up above us.

Jolted by the unexpected movement, she turned to see me and scowled ominously.

The Klangfarben woman was holding a sheaf of old and obviously brittle papers – the original manuscript of Beethoven's missing Quartetto giocoso.

"Damn you! Come one step closer, Dr. Kerr, and I will destroy it."

Then I remembered what Dylan had said when she'd kidnapped him: though a descendent of Beethoven's, nonetheless she hates his music!

"The world will not ever hear this music, if it's up to me – like we really need another Beethoven string quartet!"

The music of the quartet, playing through the void, became louder, more joyous.

"Gaaakh!" she screamed, "listen to that – awful stuff!" She took the manuscript in her hands and began tearing it to shreds. It broke and splintered, falling to the ground: then she stomped on it.

The music around us quickly disintegrated and likewise broke into shards of sound before slowly fading into exhausted sobs – then nothingness.

Reaching into the casket again, she pulled out a small, golden jewel-box that might play Für Elise when you opened it. She held it so I could see, pointing an accusatory finger toward me.

"Don't you come any nearer, Dr. Kerr," she said, looking several years older than me, "it's clear I've won this one!"

I mean, it wasn't like I was going to make a run for her and beat her senseless with my fists. We looked like two senior citizens standing around a jewelry store display case.

Carefully, Klavdia opened the box – which did not, mercifully, play Für Elise or anything else, for that matter – and lifted out a scrolled parchment tied by a simple red ribbon with a gold seal.

"Unless I'm mistaken, it's the Last Will and Testament of the Immortal Belovèd."

Which was when I noticed the crystal sphere.

It had come from nowhere, this small globe, dropping rapidly toward her from far above in the darkness and at first I thought it might hit her in the head, knocking her out cold. There was no tell-tale giggling, in fact not even a whoosh of air, even after it suddenly stopped, hovering above her.

I assumed it was Kedaver with his friend Alf, most likely come to help the Klangfarben woman escape somehow, and I only hoped my glancing up at it several times would sufficiently distract her.

At this point, she fell for it, stepping back and looking up to see what caught my attention. If I'd had a gun and knew how to use it, I could've shot her then. But it turns out I didn't need to worry about that: it was too late. Without warning, the globe simply exploded.

And it exploded – or rather expanded – in all directions, enveloping her in its amber-like glow. Shimmering rays of light emanated from the center of the sphere, multi-colored brilliance bursting forth for only a second.

It caught nothing else up in its luminance, not the casket, not the jewel-box she had been holding nor even, most fortunately, me. After a blinding flash, the light had collapsed back into itself.

And in that flash, Klangfarben had disappeared, rescued by her crony Abner Kedaver – but she had let go of the scroll.

Her shriek, at first deafening, was immediately reduced to a distant, annoying whine, a bit like a mosquito caught in a jar. I looked once again at the sphere, visible after the explosion collapsed. There she was, inside the globe – almost infinitesimal – buzzing against the surface, behind her a glittering shower of points of light.

She hadn't been rescued, ready to escape the dimension of the Pendulum Room: she'd been captured, one more image of the universe preserved inside the sphere. Having attained her goal, she'd now lost it.

"Ah, perfida," the voice of Abner Kedaver crooned once again, "you are mine, you who'd left me behind in the past." The sphere bounced lightly in the air. "We were partners, with an agreement. But now I think I will return you to the past and leave you there. How far back should we go?"

With a great shout of Re-va'-dek ren-Ba'! like some ancient incantation, the globe roared upward at incredible speed, shooting off into space where it quickly disappeared. Both Klangfarben and Kedaver had entered another dimension.

When the whooshing stopped and the laughter evaporated into space, silence descended upon the labyrinth, finally, and I stood there, alone.

I reached down and picked the scroll up off the floor.

Was this really the Immortal Belovèd's Last Will and Testament?

After breaking the seal and slipping off the ribbon, I began to read.

The Last Will and Testament of the Woman Known as Beethoven's Immortal Belovèd

I can hardly begin writing "being of sound mind and body," can I?

("Wait, this is written in English, not German!")

...since I am old and tired and feel I've lived a hundred years.

("Did Beethoven know any English women in 1812?")

In fact, I could definitely say I have lived enough for three lives but that would be too much to explain or at least for idiots here in Germany to understand, much less believe.

Of course, it didn't help that one of Beethoven's doctor-friends examined me not long before my confinement came to an end and determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was clinically insane. In fact, as he put it, "as mad as a bag of frogs," no doubt no less insane thirty-four years later.

True, I'd suffered a great shock, meeting the Great Beethoven like that, then having him fall inconceivably in love with me, much to the amusement, then growing concern of some of his closest friends. If only that summer had also proven "inconceivable," after my arrival at Teplitz, before my giving birth to our daughter, Amalie.

Is that such a shock to you, my unknown reader, since few people knew of her existence – much less of mine? Yes – I was seduced by the composer Beethoven and bore his bastard child.

("It's true, then, everything Schnellenlauter had uncovered, everything that Frieda was telling me. This document will prove the Immortal Belovèd's identity. This is no doubt the musicological find of the century – of two centuries! No wonder Klavdia Klangfarben was so excited to get her hands on it: it would make one's reputation for a lifetime."

My hands were shaking almost uncontrollably and it was a great temptation to turn to the last page, read the signature, and end the age-old mystery of the Belovèd's name once and for all.

But I'd forgotten about Frieda and her desire for privacy and how this revelation would put young Toni's career in jeopardy. Remember the pressure Brahms had endured with Schumann's 'prophecy' about being Beethoven's heir!

"And what, after all, if she didn't sign it with her real name, using only Knussbaum's nickname for her – Rosa Kohl?"

And what (the Belovèd continued) could I call my 'estate' that I bequeath to my heirs, dying a lonely, poor woman? I arrived in Vienna with nothing and leave this world, finally, with nothing. I have no riches, neither money nor income – the fund Beethoven set up for my care was only for my care.

Yet I cannot complain for lack of any care though it leaves nothing to pass on much less take with me. But there's something I can do about that – let's save that for later.

Plus, as indifferent as I was at the beginning, it saddens me that I have outlived the daughter they named Amalie, that poor girl born of the Great Ludwig's misguided and truly incomprehensible passion.

She died not long after becoming a mother of her own, poor thing, and her at the age of barely 22.

So everything I have – which is nothing, for what it's worth – I leave to the only child of my only child, a sweet grandchild of now fourteen years whom her mother named Claudia Ludwiga. I'd resisted that name on both counts – "so pompous and old-fashioned," I'd reasoned – who'd saddle a girl with the name 'Ludwiga'?

Though I'd been very careful not to tell her, once she was old enough to remember, anything about her illustrious father, Amalie claimed to like the sound of it, and who could argue, there?

With his handsome face, Everett Gutknaben felt he deserved favor from young Amalie: him a talented student from a well-to-do family and her only the daughter of a former member of the Academy's staff (for that's how they explained my presence there, having fallen on hard times, rather than Beethoven's cast-off mistress gone completely bonkers).

Poor Amalie inherited the unsociable manner of her father and her mother's irritability, a volatile temper lurking behind her sultry looks. More handsome than pretty, she already showed signs of inheriting her father's deafness.

She was a bit of a wild girl who'd make a bad marriage so perhaps it was better she'd made none. You could see in her sad eyes that she was destined for unhappiness.

Then she found herself "with child" after Everett graduated tops in his class: she never told him the child was his.

What legacy did young Claudia need as she blossomed into a beautiful child, having inherited the least of her grandfather's personality and the best of her handsome father's looks, especially his golden blond hair?

("I wonder, would Everett Gutknaben be the grandfather of that boy, Gottlieb, whose murder was recounted in Harrison Harty's Schweinwald journal?")

After her mother had died, one thing I decided Claudia would never know – whatever she'd choose to think about her grandmother – was that the mother she would never remember had ever been Beethoven's bastard.

Other than Claudia, such a dear child who dotes on her old granny, there is no one else in the family, and surely Ludwig would never want his brother Johann to know I exist. Beethoven's nephew wouldn't want to hear from me, especially if no money's involved, though he seems to have turned out alright.

(That poor boy had enough crosses to bear without meeting another crazy relative. I'd thought of introducing him to Amalie, though. Old Ludwig would've flipped an ear-trumpet if he thought they'd become romantically involved!)

Ah well – on my side of the family, it seems like it was only last year I had buried my mother or saw my twin-like sister of the same name, wherever she may be.

Dead or alive, I wouldn't know (and she would know nothing of me): I can only wish her requiescat in pacem.

You're probably wondering, gentle reader, depending on who sees this and when, how exactly a woman like me (whatever that means) would have managed to meet Beethoven, the greatest living composer of his time? Since the man everyone calls "The Master" has his own view of it, I should perhaps let you hear my side.

I had found myself wandering around the halls of an old Viennese home (let's not go into how I got there) when I opened a door and discovered Beethoven pouring water over his head.

He was half-naked and growling something that might be music (so he explained) and didn't seem surprised to see me there. He was expecting a new housekeeper but not, he professed with increasing ardor, one quite so charming and beautiful as I. (I'd heard about his hearing but had no idea he was near-sighted, too.)

Like his music, he was impetuous, overpowering, and though I loathed the man and his music, who could resist the tempest? The courtship was both fast and frequently furious, so I devised a plan.

We should go away together – meeting at Teplitz, he would arrive from Prague: he arrived late, but I was later still.

It had become too intense – he had doubts! So when he cooled, I became even hotter; he pressed forward, I retreated.

Eventually, his reluctance gave way: for my real intent was to destroy him.

It had not been part of my plan to get drunk that evening much less spend a passionate night in bed. I completely withdrew; he collapsed like a billowing inferno that completely spent itself.

But my plan had backfired if not failed: instead, he destroyed me when I realized I was pregnant with his child.

We could not be married, he explained – his art, you know – so I threatened to kill both him and the baby.

Conveniently, his friends had a doctor declare me insane, and off I went.

If the old cliché is indeed true – how a great artist must suffer – then I certainly helped to make Beethoven great. (That is one way of saying it backfired: that was not the plan.)

But soon he had to deal with that sister-in-law and nephew of his, the mirror reflection of me and my daughter.

Every single altercation with Johanna, his brother's widow, every hour wasted on lawyers, every moment worrying over that wretched boy's schooling was a little like revenge for having saddled me with his own child.

Such a hypocrite over his brothers' private lives, he would not dare take in his own daughter born out of wedlock.

So the initial joy he felt at Amalie's birth soon changed to sorrow and that's when I realized I had failed.

Had he been a happy man, would his music have been worth anything?

He could simply have cut me loose, a crazy old beggar woman with a vivid imagination but instead locked me away, a distant place called "Schattigen Kiefern" where I was more prisoner than patient.

That stupid brat of a nut-case Rainer Knussbaum kept tabs on me, running letters back and forth, letters he eventually destroyed.

Beethoven had set up a special fund, asked a teacher named Simon Sechter to administer the account and look after me until after Beethoven died; then Sechter went off to Schweinwald, the Academy's headmaster. Rather than leave me go even though I could do no harm now, he took us with him, keeping us hidden.

Plus they set up a system of people who were called "Watchers" to protect us but they were more like wardens.

("This is the opposite of everything Knussbaum wrote: who is telling the truth?")

There was one thing I could leave Claudia: a manuscript some people would be clamoring for if they knew it existed. Here it is, twenty years after Beethoven's death: how much was it worth? But there were restrictions placed on it by the composer, the crafty bastard: "publish it only after the Immortal Belovèd's death."

While it was traumatic for Beethoven dealing with the aftermath of our relationship, news of Amalie's birth filled him with joy. He poured everything into this new string quartet which Knussbaum delivered to me.

Or rather, to my keepers, since I could neither hold nor see it – afraid I would try to destroy the thing – but once a year on Amalie's birthday I had to listen to it.

I swear he had composed it for the sole purpose of torturing me, payback for the biggest mistake of my life.

Amalie grew bored with it, preferring newer music she heard at the Academy, especially anything by Rossini or Mercadante, even Hummel. As for me, I thought Kalkbrenner and Kalliwoda were more enjoyable than this.

And yet we endured this every year on the observance of her birthday. Seriously, it was an annoyance beyond human endurance.

But no one ever said who had composed it – though I knew it. The players never knew whose music they performed. Nobody bothered telling Amalie it was written by her famous yet heartless father.

But now that I am dead, you ask, what difference would it make? It is the only revenge I have left. He forced me to listen to it but why should anybody else suffer?

("And now the Belovèd's revenge in complete: nobody else will ever hear it! The Klangfarben woman has destroyed Beethoven's lost quartet!")

There isn't much time left though I've lingered for years beyond my hopes, but I think I've succeeded if not exactly in destroying Beethoven's unknown quartet, at least in keeping the damn thing hidden.

("No wonder Knussbaum said her Last Will and Testament must never be found, supposedly protecting her identity and keeping Beethoven's secret. In the margin, someone – Knussbaum, I would assume – wrote 'she's crazy, you know.'

Why did Knussbaum choose to honor her wishes and not burn this letter, much less hide the manuscript of the quartet?"

Instead that fool of a warden – my chief jailer the arch-idiot, arch-nemesis Knussbaum – thinks by leaving about a few vague clues, some future Prince Charming will cut through all the mists to rescue this.

One can only hope that by the time some jolly do-gooder finds it, he will discover everything has deteriorated beyond recognition.

The world does not need to hear another quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven. Even with those last ones he composed, how could anyone take him seriously? He's completely delusional! (And they call me mad!)

I've lost so much time in my lives...

("Ah, now" I thought, "there's an odd typo.")

...making a muddle of opportunities, what's the point of wishing to go back again and make things right? If any person should understand that, it's me! Besides, who am I but a sick, defenseless old woman? Yeah, right, baby! I'm a bitch and I know it so I'm going to go out like an old bat riding on a broomstick...

(" least I think that's what it says: much of it's crossed out...")

When Knussbaum realized to release the quartet was to reveal the whole secret, the other Wardens decided there was no recourse: to protect The Master, the quartet must be kept in a safe place.

"Yes," I said, "hidden from those who seek to ruin the Master's reputation, safe for one hundred years – no, two hundred..."

Since after many years I feel the inevitable closeness of Death upon me, I can write what I feel without concern, like I care what any future generation will probably be thinking of me. Having been mad as a bag of frogs at one point in life, perhaps in some future world it still applies.

However I care to explain it, I can make prophecies of my own and who is there that could dispute them?

("At this point,” I thought, “she can say anything she damn well pleases.")

The lineage will remain a small one (it's the nature of prophecy), descending primarily through illegitimate daughters and the occasional son. Some may hope to become composers, though none for generations, alas, will succeed. But frankly, being a composer who's a woman will be challenge enough without the pressure of being descended from Beethoven himself.

As the prophecy went, sometime long in the future, there will be a daughter descended from twins who becomes Beethoven's heir. My daughter would only be disappointed not to present the world with twins.

Would it help her knowing these twins will be descended in some way, in some far off time, from her daughter?

Why fill Claudia's head with an old gypsy's prophecy, this one about the twins, like Wotan's tragic children, Siegmund and Sieglinde?

("Wait, how many years before Wagner started writing The Ring did she die?")

Not an incestuous parentage, here, a few generations' gap, but she may well become the brightest new composer of her day. Who knows what lies ahead, as they say, since only Time will tell?

But that's the point of searching for lost time because Time, we all know, is a fickle bastard of its own.

What good does it do me to open all these agèd wounds again if I had been considered mad in my old age only to find I've been just as mad in my youth?

For my grandchild, poor dear, I left my penultimate will and testament which mentions nothing of her grandfather nor my madness, much less my constant ruminations about lost time which would only be confusing.

This is for the future: as the old man said, "Perception is everything!"

Dutifully signed,

The Immortal Belovèd, once Klavdia Klangfarben.

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

to be concluded... [with any luck, this link will take you to the final installment at 8am on Friday, August 26th.]

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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

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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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.


= = = = = = = = = = = = =
to be continued... [with any luck, the link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, August 24th...]
= = = = = = = = = = = = = 

(*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.

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


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