Thursday, December 08, 2022

987 Words About Proust's Novel and How It Grew

After Proust died on November 18th, 1922, his friends came to the apartment at 44 rue Hamelin to pay their respects. There, Jean Cocteau noticed these unfinished manuscripts scattered around the room beside Proust's bed, how "that pile of paper on his left was still alive, like watches ticking on the wrists of dead soldiers."

Proust's cork-lined bedroom at 44 rue Hamelin

Given the way Proust worked and given the recent state of his health, it wasn't going to be easy sorting through this "pile of paper" to see what remained of his supposedly finished novel.

Most readers probably think a writer sits down, starts at the beginning, and, sooner or later, inspiration willing, reaches the end. Then it's only a matter of sending it off to the waiting publisher. Weren't we lucky Proust could write "The End" to his life's work, In Search of Lost Time, months before he died?

The author's original manuscript, presumably, had been cleanly typed, thoroughly proof-read, and, complete and ready to print, sent to the publisher. Usually, a publisher's "proofs" were meant to check spellings and make necessary corrections. Instead, Proust treated them like one more step toward a final draft, writing copious marginal notes and pasting in additional paragraphs.

Proofs & Paperolles: The Prisoner, c.1921

Eventually this turned into not just new pages, but new plot threads which led to entirely new volumes to handle them; the first of these involved meeting the love of his Narrator's life, Albertine.

Proust had only met Alfred Agostinelli shortly before completing Swann's Way and their tumultuous relationship lasted barely half a year before his new secretary left and was subsequently killed in an accident in 1914. He became, with Proust's typical alchemy, the model for Albertine and the object of the Narrator's jealous obsessions for future volumes. Originally, it was Time Lost (later Swann's Way), the Guermantes Way, and Time Regained. But the "Albertine Story" became the newly inserted second volume and grew into the new fourth volume, Sodom & Gomorrah.

On Oct 13th, 1917, Proust received 5,000 pages of proofs. Correcting them would've been laborious even if his eyes had been normal, but without glasses and "without much eyesight," it became a frightful job. Still, he refused to get spectacles. Four days later, his publisher announced Proust's novel, formerly three books, will now become five.

But as Proust's ever-expanding imagination proceeded to "edit" his newest volume, within fourteen months Sodom & Gomorrah (published as Cities of the Plain by squeamish English translators), filling in details between The Guermantes Way and the now revised war-time setting for the final volume, Time Regained, was first split into two, then eventually three books.

Meanwhile, once the War finally ended, Proust saw these post-Swann volumes into print before spending months rewriting parts of Time Regained, initially written simultaneously with Swann's Way (originally entitled Time Lost) back in 1913.

However, his health, never good and often precarious, became increasingly worrisome. In early 1922, he wrote to friends about thoughts of suicide, wishing he'd had some cyanide, months before he published Sodom & Gomorrah. The expanded "spin-off" of these latest proofs became another volume, The Prisoner, announced days before his famous dinner with James Joyce.

In late-June, 1922, Proust managed to write to his editor, "the reworkings of this typescript where I am making additions everywhere and changing everything, has hardly begun," One can only imagine his editor's expression. Remember, earlier that spring he'd told his faithful housekeeper, Céleste Albaret, "Last night, I wrote 'The End.' Now I can die."

In October, catching a cold which turned into bronchitis, he completed The Prisoner but started revising the next new volume, The Fugitive, apparently not fully satisfied he'd written "The End" on his life's work.

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

Consider the chronology of these facts: Proust had written "The End" in the Spring of 1922; in late-June, he informed his editor "the reworking of this typescript... has hardly begun"; and now he indicated he had made an enormous cut of, according to Hayman, some 250 pages which amounted to almost two-thirds of The Fugitive! It should be noted the frequently quoted Wikipedia entry called The Fugitive "the most editorially vexed volume", and stated without verification the cut consisted of 150 pages: both were subsequently ignored by posthumous editions.

Proust had a new manuscript typed up, retitled Albertine disparue, having already promised his publisher he would have "more books to offer you," apparently whole new volumes [plural!] between The Fugitive and Time Regained. He also mentioned he considered the Death of Albertine and the whole process of forgetting her some of his finest writing.

While Proust didn't break his volumes down into internal chapters per se, Hayman indicated this cut began on p.648 of the proofs after "the first chapter" and ended at p.898 with "the Venice Episode." This includes memories of "a sweetly innocent Albertine" and conversations with her friend Andrée about his suspicions of Albertine's lesbian affairs; how the Duchesse de Guermantes' attitude towards Swann had changed since his death; how Gilberte, Swann's daughter, helped the Narrator "get over" Albertine; and the discovery of his old friend Robert de Saint-Loup's homosexuality.

Now, if it's true Proust regarded this part of Albertine's Story as some of his best writing, would he logically have merely discarded it to present his publisher with a shorter, more salable book? How much of it would have become fuel for one of these new volumes, not merely fragments inserted into Time Regained? Yes, in August he'd joked how “short books sell better,” but that would've been the first time in eight years he apparently cared about sparing his publisher from longer and continuously longer books!

Each time I read through Time Regained and think of this massive cut, I wonder what part of the Narrator's story was left to tell? There are large gaps of time during the War when the Narrator is absent from Paris, times he spent in a sanatorium: perhaps this volume would've been called The Invalid?

- Dick Strawser

Thursday, December 01, 2022

The Salieri Effect: The Final Installment

In the previous installment, things are quickly wrapping up for this absolutely last installment of The Salieri Effect: first of all, Tom Purdue experiences another weird break-in at his cabin in Swanville, Maine (another visit from Wormwood?); Cameron has managed to survive a wild jeep-ride in the IMP agents' escape from the Basilikon Lab's fire and collapse; Rose Philips, mild-mannered piano teacher of Sanza, Missouri, comes clean about her past after Dr. Kerr comes to (speaking of surviving); and new developments about those mysterious mini-drones give the IMP pause.

= = = = = = =


Laurence Bridges' career as a has-been had, so far, lasted considerably longer than his career as a famous, highly respected, and once sought-after director which, truth be told, had lasted barely a few seasons. His publicity photo, recently retired after a career of nearly twenty years, attested to the days when fame brought certain expectations. Young actresses might be expected to fall for his charms which, at 30, were considerably more than they were at 60. And a successful director could promise fame which a washed-up one could not. He'd hoped to avoid a scandal after one more failed seduction, hoping it, too, could be hushed up like the others. That seemed to be a recurrent thread in his career, these frequent seductions. In most cases, young actresses, even Angela Tiepolo, Dorking's Constanze, simply put up with him and chalked it up to experience.

Of course, his natural defense fell back on the “my-word-against-yours” and “you-fucking-assaulted-me-you-crazy-bitch” variety, except Vector walked in on them quite sure that director's hand was working its way around that young actress' left breast, before Toni's right knee came firmly in contact with Bridge's left testicle. Plus Toni was also 16 and therefore, legally, under-aged.

Then, too, a witness stepped forward as soon as Vector arrived: the theater's costume designer, Taylor Velcreaux, the mousy woman quietly working at her desk in the far corner and who, unnoticed, overheard everything.

So, given the circumstances and the witnesses, and given the fact the theater's board president was a friend of Burnson Allan's, Bridges wasn't going to be allowed to merely resign for “reasons of health.” He wasn't about to be allowed to simply disappear so everyone could pretend it never happened, that boys were just boys. No, this time, there would be a trial, complete with witnesses and apparently several complainants because, within 24 hours, Angela Tiepolo was in contact with five actress-friends who'd also been assaulted by Director Bridges.

And since they can now prove an assault on a minor, a charge of “attempted statutory rape” was a definite possibility. The constant parade of actresses now coming forward from behind the scrim meant no one would likely ever hire Laurence Bridges again even if he didn't spend the rest of his life in jail.

“So, yeah, I just want to thank Cameron and Sidney for showing me that self-defense move,” Toni said, “even though at the time I had wondered why I would ever need such a thing. It came in handy and I'm grateful, for once, for their 'phys-ed classes,' so much more realistic than playing, like, softball...” (That had always been one of Toni's major peeves with her American education, “enforced phys-ed” with team sports trying to turn girls into future athletes. “I'm not a girl,” she'd complained, “I'm a musician!”)

Her phone call on Friday had come as a surprise, but she wanted to share the news with us before all the shit hit the fans and Cameron and I heard about it second-hand. “If my folks told you, they'd just say 'well, there was this backstage kerfuffle, so the show's off,' and that's that.”

For our news, I decided there was no reason to mention what we'd been up to – well, I did some time-traveling and nearly got killed by a transphobic composer; Cameron got caught up in some international terrorist group's intrigue and...” – yeah, no. Plus I wanted to save all the developments about L'Affair Trazmo for later. There were still “details” to finish up – what “details” can be finished up – but soon we would resume our vacatio interruptus (which, I realized too late, may not have been the most appropriate phraseology).

Meanwhile, Burnson decided to remain in Venice – he was, LauraLynn said, reluctant to admit he'd enjoy it more if it weren't so lonely – but only on condition they would come back and rejoin him. Then, probably by the time June rolled around, they could return home to Surrey in time to avoid the summer sirocco. “And Mr. Newhouse,” Toni explained, “said we could stay at the villa. Since he'll go visit friends in Greece and Provençe, the palazzo and the villa would both be empty the whole summer, anyway.”

She added, parenthetically, he usually invited some musicologist-friends from Denmark to spend the summer but both he and his partner were teaching some graduate seminars in Stockholm, so they can't arrive until maybe late-July. “Just think, my folks could have the palazzo to themselves – and we could spend the summer composing under the villa's zephyrs.”

We laughed but I'd caught the inference she didn't want to refer to James' villa by its real name, Villa Venticelli: she'd had enough of Peter Shaffer's venticelli to last her a few years. So in her honor, Cameron and I agreed to rename it (temporarily) the Villa Zefirini, and hoped it wouldn't offend anyone.

James had diplomatically declined Burnson's invitation to repay his hospitality with a visit to Phlaumix Court sometime later in the fall. “Unfortunately, 'England fails to agree with my lawyers',” Toni quipped, imitating him perfectly.

Cameron hesitated about any commitments to compose. We'd talked about Rose Philips and what it must've taken her to realize she lacked the talent and commitment it took to achieve the level she wanted. But he'd give it “a go” since it would be good discipline for the mind and a trial for the soul.

We agreed we'd each try to compose something – Toni already had a piece in mind (“of course,” Cameron said and rolled his eyes). Whatever we'd finish, we'd read through it in a private performance.

“Maybe I could ask Tom to host a little house concert at his place in the fall, Toni, if you can come over to visit. It might give him a little creative incentive, too.”

Toni wondered if he'd be well enough to travel to Italy this summer and join us.

“It wouldn't hurt to ask!”

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

Leaving Orient, IA, behind had not been a difficult decision to make once the inevitable paperwork with Sheriff Diddon was complete and the coldest of cold cases about Phillips Hawthorne's disappearance was successfully closed. We needed to get back to Maine and visit with Tom a bit, then arrange for our return trip to Venice.

Alice Hubbard had stayed behind in Sanza to look after her friend Rose. Later, after we left, Rose would come up to Orient and stay with the Hubbards for a few weeks of R-&-R.

Rose told the sheriff about Old Gene, that “delightful old vagrant” Trazmo gave his clothes to (that's not quite how I remembered it, not sure who was in which parallel universe at the time). Buck Masterman remembered the “rascally codger” who'd disappeared himself around that time, so Orient's latest victim now officially died “by misadventure.”

To Cameron and I, boarding the plane in Omaha for Portland, everything appeared to resolve neatly, all officially dotted and crossed, except for the poor folks over at GACC who were now stuck with a nearly complete program that wasn't worth airing now that their sensationalized suppositions had unceremoniously been pulled out from under them. The late Phillips Hawthorne Sr. didn't have to deal with the scandal over his son's disappearance and his son – or rather, Rose Philips – need only contend with the temporary flurry over Dexter Shoad's death.

And for a few days, the news had been full of Dexter Shoad. The reporters lacked a lot of substantial information, given the sudden demise of the music school where he'd studied until recently, but the increase in hits on the video of his Absence & Return had skyrocketed exponentially over the past few days. Would would-be composer Dexter Shoad, killed while attempting to murder two people in a sleepy little town in Northwest Missouri, become famous because of his music or because of the circumstances of his demise?

The facts of that death – that he hadn't planned to commit murder, that it all happened spontaneously out of his emotional responses – meant nothing to anybody's awareness that in fact he hadn't murdered anyone. For some, it begged Pushkin's question, posed about Salieri – “are genius and crime irreconcilable?” – even if Dexter Shoad was no genius?

Directly or indirectly, Tom had now spent half his life under the shadow of Trazmo's Disappearance, and while a lot of what happened or didn't happen in his life may not be immediately caused by the case itself, its impact had long loomed over him, a volcano on the verge of erupting at any moment. So what, now finally resolved, it's another murder – or alleged murder – where he's found “not guilty” and it's “sorry, our mistake”? Meeting Rose Philips wasn't about to make amends for past events and disasters.

But she also said, clearly she had nothing to do with it directly, had no idea it had been going on. She assumed it'd disappear once the media lost interest, if it hadn't been for her father, the real culprit in this. She did apologize that that bitter old man had, unfortunately, lived too long.

Rose Philips was a far cry from the arrogant bastard who'd plagued Tom across the past three decades, but understandably Tom felt no need to confront these memories or meet her under any circumstances. Even if she'd say she was sorry for what he'd been through, I wondered what's the point of an apology, anyway.

One good thing was Tom had heard his Big Tune again, facing up to it courtesy of Trazmo and Dexter Shoad, and thought it wasn't half-bad. “Maybe I can still do something with that...?”

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

The word got around SHMRG's headquarters pretty quickly that Lucifer Darke was, in more ways than one, “out of the office.” Portia Gates, former receptionist turned personal secretary, had witnessed the IMP raid – how could she stop them? – and watched helplessly as her boss was led away in handcuffs, the first of many big changes.

Several executive staff also noticed the parade: CFO Peter Andrew Wolfe, whistling something from a piece by Prokofiev, decided it was time, metaphorically, to change his spots. Director of Marketing Horace Toccata nearly exploded.

Within minutes, Toccata submitted his resignation to “Whomever's Left to Be Concerned” with a cc:Portia Gates and everyone on the board. Responsible for a faulty product like the z'Art software, he immediately cleared out his office and disappeared down the elevator, where he'd met various IMP agents in the lobby who took him into custody.

The day ended with an All-Staff e-mail from the Board President, Christopher Babbilla, which explained Lucifer Darke has left the company “to pursue other interests” and that tomorrow morning, the new CEO would convene an emergency board meeting to implement additional changes. There followed a list of executives laid off in order to cut costs.

A few minutes later, a press release went out to announce SHMRG's new CEO, though he wasn't exactly “new,” was he?

“N. Ron Steele will return to his former post as CEO, effective immediately.”

After another flurry of resignations, the final day of the work-week began with a sparsely populated office and Portia Gates nervously seated at her desk, wondering if she would be, most likely, replaced by Holly Burton and either reassigned or fired out-right. She'd served the company well for many years; perhaps they'd consider that kindly.

Portia hadn't seen Mr. Steele arrive but was later informed he's already in the Board Room, ready to begin the meeting. Complete with notepad and pen, she entered the room, intercepted by Holly Burton.

Holly thanked her for bringing in her notepad and pen; then, smiling, informed her the company no longer required her services.

Steele, delighted he no longer needed the wheelchair, admired this gold ring on his left hand – something new and precious – pointing out to Holly what he called “this mysterious encryption” around its garish stone.

Ignoring the downcast Ms. Gates and her boxes of personal things (she'd discovered she'd already been locked out of her computer – were there any files, she wondered, they might discover there connected to Mr. Darke's downfall which could prove troublesome for her?), Savannah Roller walked through the office, head high, and entered the board room. Beside her was a nerdy young man, myopic, slightly overweight, barely an adult himself, grossly uncomfortable in a suit and tie. She'd been told this was Steele's new head of Cyber Security, Kenneth Hackett.

With that, Ms. Roller stepped back as Holly took up her old familiar position at the head of the board table beside the CEO's chair, ready to take notes as this momentous meeting unfolded. Ms. Roller ceremoniously opened the door, scanned the waiting room – nobody knew who she was – and nodded for them to enter.

Some of the board members, as they filed in, nodded and smiled at Steele, welcoming him back for old times' sake. Others looked a bit wan, unsure about potential retributions for their “alleged” disloyalty. Steele stood by the doorway, his hands at his side, stern and magisterial, while Savannah Roller, supremely confident, stood alongside him.

To some, Steele smiled and nodded as they passed; to others, he lifted his chin, an imperious gesture with marked disapproval.

“If I held out my hand,” he wondered, “will they kiss my ring?”

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

IMP technicians had scrubbed through Lucifer Darke's computer and found enough incriminating e-mails to bring any number of charges against him across a wide array from corporate malfeasance to the murders of “inconvenient witnesses,” plus several related to the hundreds of deaths of would-be composers resulting from known malfunctions in SHMRG's Artificial Creativity software, “z'Art.” It was this last one Capt. Ritard had specifically looked for – did they rush the program into production knowing there was this technical glitch that could kill people? The others came as a surprise.

The “odors of Denmark” as Ritard expressed it (he always loved his Shakespeare) wafted from some of these other e-mails, though. Why would Darke keep so many of them, dating back so many years, when years'-worth of other messages had been deleted? “It was almost as if he'd left them there to taunt us – unless...”

The IMP long suspected Steele had been involved in the death of Robertson Sullivan whose opera, Faust, Inc., threatened to expose, supposedly, an earlier crime of Steele's, the death of his secretary Pansy Grunwald. The thing was, the earliest e-mail which had implicated Darke in ordering Pansy's death (“another accident”) predated his arrival at SHRMG.

But here was a more recent one, previously unknown, another Steele underling who “knew too much” and had to be silenced, dating from the transition between Steele and Darke – but who was Amanda Hackett?

Wasn't it odd, Ritard thought, seated at his favorite table in the Thai Palace's back corner, all these murders they'd long figured Steele had planned were all ordered by Lucifer Darke – his once-loyal henchman. Finding all these e-mails – wasn't that just too convenient, too neat – too... obvious? How – no, who would want to frame Darke? And now Streicher's failure to catch Steele at the Allegro Conservatory yet again left the IMP the proverbial one step behind.

This morning's word from Bond proved equally confusing, some learnèd council of scholars (academic survivalists, apparently) with no clear indication Steele or SHMRG were behind it. What did this have to do with him? But that's the chatter, some plot to subvert the Casaubon Society's codification of “all human knowledge.” Why? Was SHMRG branching out?

“The curtain,” Ritard said, “has yet to fall on this investigation, Mr. Steele.”


The summer passed quickly, but also, fortunately, uneventfully, lazy days and lazier nights devoted to long talks and lots of composing. LauraLynn and Burnson stayed at James' palazzo until mid-June when they returned to Phlaumix Court, while the three of us, Toni, Cameron and I, joined by Tom, stayed at the Villa “Zefirini” until late-August. Tom had recuperated wonderfully in the sun and sweet breezes of the Berici Hills and, with his mind finally relieved of all its Trazmo trappings, his creativity almost immediately began to re-blossom and flourish.

While Tom wasn't particularly comfortable running around Legnago on our one-day pilgrimage to Salieri's hometown, Toni managed to free herself from the burdens of her experience with Amadeus, especially her brief brush with stardom. Nephew Carlo, apparently, no longer worked at the library; surprisingly, there were no records of any letters written by Benedetto Speranzani.

Our days were filled composing, and at night we worked on realizing our sketches or just unwound with some good conversation. While Toni was already well into her dream-inspired Septet, the rest of us agreed to write pieces for cello and piano, Tom and I both working on full-fledged sonatas which we very nearly finished. Cameron, partly distracted by Sam Senn's arrival for a two-week holiday, tried his hand at a short, song-like nocturne. We agreed to have the parts done for a read-through at Tom's place by mid-October.

Tom's large but usually empty cabin was full once again, and with several new friends around his spirits brightened even more. On the first weekend of October, Toni and her folks arrived from England (surprisingly sans entourage), eager for the peak of Leaf-Peeping Season; and Sam arrived on a break from Chicago two days later. While Sam drove “the Brits” around to admire the scenery (so different from Venice), Cameron drove the rest of us into Bangor to work with the Dimsdale College musicians hired for the house concert.

Through some of Tom's old-time Faber connections, we discovered William Howell, a freshman our last year there, was now Dean of Fine Arts at Dimsdale who graciously arranged for some faculty members and a group of students to be available for us. Tom and I decided we could both manage my sonata and Cameron's piece.

Our “concert” was set for Sunday the 16th which allowed us four rehearsals at the college, given the faculty members' availability. The cellist and the pianist, a married couple, were local and more accessible; the oboist (who doubled on the English Horn) came in from Portland and was only in town on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The violinist, the Bangor Symphony's assistant concertmaster, assured us the students were “top-notch.” I figured he'd assign a student for a 16-year-old's composition, but after seeing the score, he agreed to play it himself.

Originally, I wanted to use all students but there were no English horn players at the school except for the teacher. Plus, the workload for the cellist and pianist required more commitment than the typical student's schedule might be able to accommodate. Overall, things went extremely well and we were encouraged from the very start.

The word apparently got around about this odd “house concert” they'd been hired for, an informal private performance including two new pieces and some anonymous late-19th Century cello sonata they were going crazy trying to figure out who could've written it; so Dean Howell and the chairman asked to sit in on the next rehearsal. They were quite enthusiastic about our “project” and wanted to discuss perhaps performing them – world premieres! – at a public concert during the school's Spring Semester. Tom realized he should invite them to the concert.

Beyond Toni's parents and Sam, we had no other automatic guests, so, performers aside, we decided to invite nine more in all: the Department Chairman, Dean Howell and their wives, plus the school's five undergraduate composition students (two of them young women). Tom definitely had a full house and we were glad they had car-pooled. It may have gone beyond the sense of a private performance but it gave us the awareness of a real audience. Another rehearsal might've been helpful, but generally it was a highly productive experience.

Maybe I'd bitten off more than I could chew, technically, with my own sonata – it was years since I'd last done any performing as a cellist – but it was an informal “try-out” and my own piece, so there was also less pressure. Ultimately, we all acquitted ourselves fairly well and Tom played with considerable assurance.

Cameron was the most nervous of us, despite the encouragement we'd given him. His was really a lovely, thought-out, well-balanced piece, and I hoped it would encourage him not to give up composition entirely. Tom's sonata, or what he'd completed, made a very strong impression and the dean asked if they wouldn't mind repeating it.

Naturally, Toni's Septet stole the show, and even I was amazed, since I'd worked with her these past two years, at the progress she'd made. Not surprisingly, several asked to hear the finale again.

The “Mystery Sonata” – most figured it was by some forgotten friend of Brahms – was considered good, no previously unknown masterpiece but a solid piece of craftsmanship and quite original in spots, worthy of performance. “Very dramatic,” someone said, “too dramatic for a mere academic”; also “technically proficient and too well-crafted to be by some amateur.” Imagine the looks on their faces when, after the applause, I told them the composer, who'd once lived in this house and wrote it at this piano, was a housewife named Emaline Norton Hyde!

With no information about the “encore” – any mystery heightened only by the tone of my introduction – jaws dropped afterward when I announced the manuscript of this strange bit of Scriabinesque atonality was dated 1892. (Dean Howell whispered “impossible!”) Then I told them this was “Minotaur's Gate,” and its composer, Jeckelson Hyde, was Emaline Norton's husband.

I glanced at Tom and smiled as this revelation drifted over the audience, pleased to have pulled this off so secretively. There were, of course, lots of facts still to be unearthed about this mysterious Mr. Hyde that would require further research. And then I caught sight of a man seated not far behind Tom.

Not one of the guests from the college, I hadn't seen him earlier. Slender, dressed in dark, old-fashioned clothing, dark hair and mustache, he was a person who immediately struck me as vaguely familiar.

I was reminded of another guest who'd milled about another reception somewhere, sometime – someplace else – whom I couldn't quite recall because there'd been no reason to notice him except he was someone so striking.

In the midst of explaining how Tom found the manuscripts in a closet upstairs, I hadn't realized how long I'd paused.

The man smiled, touched his index finger to his mustache, nodded. I saw the flash of a ring the ring I'd seen flash by me in the library at Harvard? How could that be? One of the students I'd met at Sanders Theater, one who'd studied with John Knowles Paine and later married Emaline Norton...

But that was 1886, courtesy of the Kapellmeister.

His name was Jeckelson Hyde.

This was once his house; he's listening to music he'd once written here.

Looking around, I'd lost him: obviously, my imagination...

There were a lot of small conferences going on at the reception, the composition students talking with Tom and Toni, mostly, but Brasilio Bacchiano, the cellist, told me how they're all keen on playing the entire program – including my sonata and Cameron's Nocturne, “if you wouldn't mind” (mind?) – with Toni's Septet during the Spring Semester.

Toni looked quite comfortable, like she enjoyed talking to the chairman, and LauraLynn and Burnson looked every bit the proud parents. Success, I thought, was always a slippery slope: were they ready for it?

Toni knew she should think about it but she immediately agreed to leave the score and parts with them; maybe she could fly over for the performance, if it'd be okay with her teacher.

“That's great,” the chairman said. “Who's your teacher?”

“You were just talking to him,” she said, “over there,” pointing at me.

Bill Howell spent a lot of time cornered there with Tom but I doubted reminiscences about Faber were the main topic. It turned out the Dean had told him how their composition teacher quit suddenly (better-paying job out in the Midwest) and they needed to find an interim replacement. Would Tom, he asked, be interested?

“You've already met your students, they're all here, and they're unanimous about my asking you,” he added, “so it's your decision.”

He knew he should think about it but he said yes almost immediately.

Sam left the next day for Chicago where he'll be involved in another IMP investigation for a few weeks before he's transferred to the New York division, assigned to Ritard's team on Bond's recommendation. With some time off between Thanksgiving and the New Year, he'll spend it visiting with us (well, mostly Cameron) in Doylestown.

I'd often wondered when would be a good and safe time to expose Toni and her music to the public, to officially begin her career, especially after the cautionary tale of Phillips Hawthorne, Ex-Prodigy. She's developing necessary self-confidence and maturity, plus a technical and stylistic consistency: without it stifling her, she might be ready now.

Cameron and I made plans to leave Swanville the next weekend; it was time to go, the future pleasant, hopefully uneventful.

“Yes,” I thought, heading home to Conan Drive, “what could possibly go wrong?”


= = = = = = =

to be continued, eventually... whenever I complete the third volume of the Tom Purdue Trilogy, The Sisyphian Rhapsody.

©2022 by Dick Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Salieri Effect: Installment #42

A busy chapter, that previous installment: one of the internet's more insidious bloggers, Sid Wreckstra, sets out to ruin Dr. T. Richard Kerr, courtesy of Arcangelo Collegnano's faking of his e-mail about a stolen letter originally sent to Lorenzo daPonte back in 1816; and just when things could conceivably still get worse as the Basilikon Lab appears on the verge of collapse (physically, if not financially), who should show up but Osiris' newest employee, the massive security director, Shango. The IMP's not sure what kind of information they're getting from the freshly arrested Dr. Charles Dawson, caught trying to escape the building during the raid, but Agent Calliope-Jane makes a discovery that might help rescue Bond and the other agents still trapped inside. Will she be able to get them out before the rest of the building implodes?

= = = = = = =


Tom heard the noise distinctly, waking up from a late-afternoon nap. Mrs. Danvers wouldn't be here this late; she's not scheduled till tomorrow. If Terry and Cameron had come back, they would've called first. No, his first thought – well, third thought – was it must be Wormwood, back for the box, and he was somewhere downstairs. He reached for his phone but it had no signal, and tiptoed around, searching for anything handy to serve as a weapon better than his cane which he figured would send the wrong signal.

If he made enough noise getting out of bed, perhaps the intruder would hear it and leave. Or, alerted there was someone in the house, maybe the guy would just run upstairs after him.

It sounded like a scuffle. Who else was there? Someone else attacked Wormwood?

“No – stop!” The voice was male, vaguely familiar.

Tom made it half-way down the steps. It was an odd sight: a young man, short, overweight and decidedly alone, flailed his arms in the air as if fending off a flock of mosquitoes. He was dressed all in black (which, Tom noted, attracted mosquitoes except it wasn't Mosquito Season yet), and wore a balaclava.

When he saw Tom, the man – apparently not Wormwood, given Mrs. Danvers' detailed description – pulled out a pistol. Tom raised his cane – not much of a struggle – and waited for the crack of gunfire.

None came. This masked fellow collapsed to his knees, hands clutched over his ears. Then another man – a third Wormwood? – charged through the door, shouting “IMP – drop the gun!” Which the second Wormwood did.

The agent quickly introduced himself as Virgil Fitzwilliam. “I'd been assigned to watch your house – and a good thing, too, apparently.”

When Fitzwilliam tore the guy's mask off, it was Mrs. Danvers' good-for-nothing nephew, Lanny Danvers, who began to whine how “the place is full of invisible music.” And yet Tom couldn't hear a thing.

What was it Lanny mumbled as Fitzwilliam hauled him away in handcuffs – “the wrong cousin got the house”? There's another cousin? Did Lanny work for someone who thought he should've inherited the cabin instead?

And was Lanny really the intruder Tom had been calling Wormwood? “You'd think Mrs. Danvers would recognize her own nephew. Unless...”

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

Deputy Dett watched as the jeep screamed out of the warehouse, laughing because the thing reminded him of a clown car – nine people got off of it once Calliope-Jane brought it to a halt – but then he saw the roof of the warehouse start to cave in along with much of the ground behind it. Once he noticed what was left of the jeep as it barely cleared the smaller warehouse, almost rolling on its passenger-side tires, he assumed, given everybody's horrified expressions, this was definitely no laughing matter.

The State Police put in their appearance, the Intrepid Hook & Ladder Company from Greenfield joined the local firefighters to put out the blaze, but another hour went by before it was “under control.” Even then, the Fire Chief allowed only a few agents access to the ruins, once he'd passed out some hard hats.

After Cameron relocated his heart and stomach, definitely the wildest ride he'd ever had in his life (“memo to self: don't take any road trips with Calliope-Jane in the future”), he checked his phone. Three messages from Terry explained they needed to get to some place in Missouri to check out a surprising new lead.

The last one ended “I'm in Sanza, MO, about ready to meet Rose Philips. Call me if you're not too busy...”

On that note, Cameron decided it'll wait until he'd unwound a bit more.

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

“No, that one's dead. This one's in shock – he'll come out of it.”

The voice, masculine and not exactly warm but efficient and appropriately fact-based, moved off as I swam back to the surface. It was overcast deep down wherever I was but the good news, ostensibly, was I was still alive, whatever had happened. All I remembered was the full-orchestra crescendo leading to the explosive percussion attack, a high sustained dissonance in the flutes and violins before everything collapsed into a low chord in the brass and strings.

The woman I heard – that would be Alice Hubbard, my driver – talked to a man who began to sound like a policeman; and the first voice I'd become aware of must have been one of the paramedics who'd arrived on the scene. The one who's dead, who'd been trying to kill me: who was he?

When I went to sit up, my body wasn't up to the effort, so I slumped back down on the floor. The other paramedic, a young woman, came over and gently straightened my legs out, checking to see if anything was broken. It would be amazing if there wasn't. Everything sure hurt like hell... “Ouch!”

The policeman said, “according to his driver's license, the dead man's Dexter Shoad.”

“Dexter Shoad? Why'd he try to kill me?”

“Or for that matter, why would he have tried to kill Rose Philips...?”

After a short while, the woman I'd hoped to meet and discuss what I thought might be “a few loose ends” had come to as well, and the policeman, a reassuring old-fashioned soon-to-retire Irishman named Malachi Mulligan, suggested it might not go “far amiss” to have the hospital check out two “old codgers like yourselves.” The paramedics agreed if we could rest a while on the couch in her music room, we'd be okay for now. A doctor who lived “down the road” would come check on us soon.

After some brief conversation, I asked if she knew who Phillips Hawthorne was. “Does the nickname 'Trazmo' mean anything to you?”

We sat beside the piano in silence as the paramedics removed Dexter's body.

Rose sat up, sighed, and squared her shoulders. “I knew this time would come eventually. I'm surprised it's taken this long.”

She began slowly, taking a long sip of the tea Alice brought in. “I knew him once, a long time ago. He was this brilliant young musician, a genius-in-waiting, they told him, a prodigy. Not a bad pianist but he wanted to become a composer and his first works were startlingly promising for his age. He got the best teachers, his father – proud, wealthy, and arrogant – hired the best musicians to play his pieces; some said he paid to have someone write them for him, but that wasn't true.

“Maybe you're talented, with some potential for success; or maybe you're gifted with a better than average imagination, more innate skills. Then there's this huge gap between being gifted and being a genuine prodigy. The trouble is, everybody wants their talented kid to become the Next Mozart, so everyone starts marketing him as a prodigy.”

As he got older, she continued, it became more difficult for Hawthorne to compose, no longer coming so easily for him, but there were expectations (“everybody had their own expectations, they all told him”). And pretty soon, unable to compose anything at all, he fell back on just writing the same pieces over and over. That's when he realized maybe he's not a “prodigy,” maybe he's just gifted. But then he wondered if, deep down, he really had the kind of talent it took to support such a gift.

“He had learned the rules of the game but the game wasn't fun any more: it was too much like work. If it wasn't fun, why bang yourself against the wall until you're all bruised and bloody? You can quit a job... So,” she said, taking a deep breath, “he decided he would walk away.”

Some of it, she said, was hard, like what to do next; some wasn't – “like leaving his bastard of a father and all that money behind.” It took years to work out the details.

“He saved some money he kept in a secret account, actually quite a bit of it, eventually, but he knew how to lie, to play a part – that was Trazmo's role, his nasty alter-ego. This transition from Trazmo the Prodigy to the mature realization of Phillips Hawthorne would become his masterpiece! The question was when...

“Then one year, Hawthorne went to one of those artist colonies – it's somewhere in Iowa.”

“At White Hill,” I said, “right.”

“There were these four older composers, and Hawthorne had to be Trazmo, the arrogant brat who put on this braggadocious front, but he found himself envious of them, their ease and sense of security. They'd sit around the music room, playing some of their pieces for each other – Hawthorne wasn't included, they never included him – but he'd written them all down in a notebook, I'm not sure why.

“That's one thing I have of Phillips Hawthorne's, that notebook. It's there, in the bench. Dexter told me he'd found it. He thought those themes – ideas – were mine, and decided he'd use them in this piece of his as a tribute to me – but they weren't mine, and he became angry... – well, yes, about Hawthorne...

“Anyway, what else could he do but compose? He was a good-enough pianist to be a composer, but not good enough to become a concert performer (practicing took too much time away from composing). Maybe teach piano in a small town where nobody knew who he was? Where there wouldn't be that kind of pressure?”

“You seem to know quite a lot about him – Phillips Hawthorne...”

She nodded.

“Yes, you could put it like that. We sort of grew up together. You see, I used to be Phillips Hawthorne.”

Rose Philips continued with her story.

“I've known since I was about 13 that I wasn't really a boy – I mean, psychologically, the old 'woman-trapped-in-a-man's-body' thing except it seemed much more complex than that. I created Rose Philips long before I thought I'd make 'the transition,' just a female cross-dressing persona – but that wasn't enough.

“About a year after Trazmo disappeared, I went to Wisconsin for the operation, so I told people here I'm taking a 'sabbatical' to visit a sister in Connecticut who needed help dealing with cancer.”

The decision to face that, to go through with all that surgery, had been even more momentous than leaving Trazmo behind. There were many adjustments and it took time to get used to everything, but in the end, the results were “exhilarating.” For once in this lifetime, Rose Philips admitted, she was now officially happy.

“Surprisingly, Dexter fell in love with me. Then when he realized I was 'trans,' became disgusted, thinking that made him 'queer.' I don't think he meant to hurt me, he just pushed me, like, to get out of his sight, but I lost my balance and fell – probably hit my head on the piano bench.

“That's apparently when you showed up and he must've panicked. Alice said he had tried to strangle you?” Rose seemed incredulous.

“He wasn't 'trying'...” My neck still showed the marks from his make-shift garrotte.

“Yes, well... fortunately Alice was here, then.”

“Fortunately, Alice had a gun and is an expert shot,” I added, “but I'm sorry he died.”

“You would've been sorrier if you'd died, don't you think?”

Officer Mulligan of Sanza's finest came in, knocked quietly, and wanted to know if we're ready to make our statements, now.

“Would you give us a few more minutes, please, Malachi? We're almost done. Oh, Alice, how're you doing, dear? You both must be terribly rattled by all this. Can I get you more tea?”

Rose made an attempt to stand up but leaned against the piano for support. “I'm sorry, I'm still a bit woozy.” Sitting back down, she admitted hardly a day went by she didn't think back on that past life, about “what if.”

“But at what cost? No, I don't miss Trazmo – not in the least.

“I'd watched everybody else get back on that bus once the roads were opened and said good-bye to Trazmo, Boy Wonder. I seriously didn't think anybody would ever miss him – I knew I wouldn't! But I had no idea what'd happen next, that they'd think I'd been murdered or Thomas Purdue would be a suspect!

“There was this boarding house about five blocks from the motel – Mrs. Hubbard's...”

“Alice's Mom? So – what... you know each other?”

“We kept in touch but no,” Rose explained, “she didn't know my secrets.

“Anyway, I rented a room for about a month; then, once spring rolled around, I took a bus and headed south. And there was this pretty little house for sale next to this pleasant little park with a bandstand, and I thought, 'what a nice spot to start over.' So I got off the bus.”

I called Sheriff Diddon, told her where I was, and what, briefly, had happened, just steam-rolling through the basic facts before I introduced Rose Philips and put her on speaker to conclude the tale. Needless to say, as it unfolded, Diddon was suitably amazed, eventually dumbfounded: this was not the outcome anyone even remotely anticipated.

“Well, Doctor, pending the investigation's official verification, looks like your friend Purdue will no longer be a suspect in the murder or disappearance of Phillips Hawthorne. But you should know what's going on here...”

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

Nobody knew exactly how many died between the gunfight, the fire, and the building's collapse, beyond two IMP agents unaccounted for. Sam knew Bond was reliving Shendo's death, too, and their own narrow escape. But there had been no sign of Osiris, her main objective, beyond the charred remains of his highly distinguishable wheelchair – again.

The bigger question for Sam was what happened to the hundreds of drones? They should've failed once the smoke contaminated the sensors, no longer able to receive signals, and just dropped like dead flies.

He couldn't get it out of his mind, that moment when he realized the drones might have become self-aware. If everybody's dead except for him and Dawson, then who'd be left to control them? Then, too, where'd they go? They knew enough to hide. Can they increase the size of the swarm? Could they... reproduce?

Back in the lab's burned-out shell, Sam found what little was left of his work area, but at least the small safe in one of his storage cabinets was intact and he could open it. His back-up remote control device still worked.

“Look, Agent Mbira,” he said, holding it up. “This by-passes the main servers...”

But once he got into the program, it took so long to get past all the encryption codes, everything ground to a halt as soon as he finally clicked on the “Abort” Command.


Mbira looked at him and they both frowned. If he can't shut the program down – unless he did shut it down but that caused it to freeze...? Unless another controller somehow overrode his command?

“Or did the drones...,” Mbira said, looking at him skeptically, afraid to suggest it, “countermand it themselves? Maybe out of self-defense?”

It didn't bode well if the Mobots could still carry out their own directives, if he can't even shut them down.

But it was time to take a break. It'd been a busy-enough day.

Fortunately at that point, his phone rang. It was Cameron, on his way down to Missouri, but they'd talk more, later.

“Yeah, looks like I'll be filling out lots of paperwork for awhile, anyway. So,” Sam said, turning away from the others, “you know a decent place in this town to go grab that drink?”

= = = = = = =

to be concluded...

©2022 by Dick Strawser for Thoughts on a Train